The greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution, in a brilliant new translation by an award-winning translator
The Underdogs is the first great novel about the first great revolution of the twentieth century. Demetrio Macias, a poor, illiterate Indian, must join the rebels to save his family. Courageous and charismatic, he earns a generalship in Pancho Villa's army, only to become discouraged with the cause after it becomes hopelessly factionalized. At once a spare, moving depiction of the limits of political idealism, an authentic representation of Mexico's peasant life, and a timeless portrait of revolution, The Underdogs is an iconic novel of the Latin American experience and a powerful novel about the disillusionment of war.
First published in 1915, Azuela's groundbreaking novel about a Mexican peasant who becomes a revolutionary leader is now being issued in a revised translation with a set of illuminating footnotes (notes and revisions by Beth E. Jurgensen). Demetrio Macias is the protagonist who joins the rebels in their efforts to overthrow Mexico's corrupt dictator, Porfirio Diaz, and Macias's brash approach to military tactics speeds his rise through the ranks. His background is articulated by journalist Luis Cervantes, who abandons the government to aid the rebels as he provides background on Macias in the early chapters. While the new general's forces engage in a series of hit-and-run battles with Federal troops, Azuela adds two romantic subplots, one about a difficult young woman named Pintada, who bonds with one of the other generals in the company; the other involves Camilla, a peasant girl who expresses her ardor for Cervantes early on, but ends up falling for Macias. The battle scenes are stirring, if somewhat underdeveloped, and Azuela highlights the conflict with a cameo appearance by Pancho Villa as the tide begins to turn against the rebels. Overall, the story is too incomplete to be labeled a classic by modern standards. What makes the book memorable is its portrayal of Macias as an archetype of Mexico's national character, as the peasant expresses his ongoing love for the process and pageantry of the revolution. The translation feels awkward, but Jurgensen's footnotes and the introduction (by Ilan Stavans) add colorful details and definitions while filling in some narrative and historical gaps. (Sept.)