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The Battle of Tomochic: Memoirs of a Second Lieutenant [Paperback]

Heriberto Frias

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Book Description

Dec 14 2006 Library of Latin America
Tomochic is a controversial and celebrated example of Mexican fiction. Tomochic is the fictional narration of the 1892 military campaign that resulted in the massacre of the small village of Tomochic, located in the Tarahumara mountains and ordered by the dictatorial regime of Porfirio Diaz. The work is narrated by an eyewitness, the then second lieutenant, Heriberto Frias, and written by him in collaboration with Joaquin Clausell, editor of the newspaper which published it in serial form between March and April of 1893. For a period after the series' publication, the author chose to maintain anonymity. It was expressly this stance which excited more public interest than any other Mexican writer of the 19th century and which eventually led to a drawn out trial to uncover the identity of the author and to implicate him. For, although it is a work of fiction, the general plot of the work, involving a confrontation between a professional army and a handful of citizens, was too similar to the actual massacre as to not be seen by Porfirio Diaz as a reprovement of himself and his regime. As a piece of literature, the novel is also admired for its incorporation of two important trends of the nineteenth century-history as literature and the war novel.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (Dec 14 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195117433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195117431
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 1.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,307,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Antonio Saborit is at National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City.

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mirror of the times May 16 2013
By P. S. Bennett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
President–dictator Porfirio Díaz worked hard to bring down (imprison) the writer(s) and reporters associated with this novel. The point of view in the novel is racist, romantic about war, and other things...but a good mirror on the thinking of the times, during which Indians were seen as unreasonable barbarians. I read it to try to understand Mexican military culture then, for my own historical novels about Mexico, the first of which, now published (Amazon), is "Playing for Pancho Villa."
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery "Book Report" Sept. 17 2009
By Stephen Siciliano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If "Tomochic" were released as a new novel today, we'd be calling its author, Heriberto Frias, the "next Cormac McCarthy."

We could say the Mexican Frias, in his conjuring of a terrible military campaign against rebellious Catholic mystics in 19th-century Chihuahua, is "reminiscent" of McCarthy.

But Frias was not conjuring anything. He was an actual soldier-participant in the mission, which led to the slaughter of some 150 crazies with guns and the Virgin Mary for muse in the mountain hamlet of Tomochic.

By way of background, Frias first published chapters of his account in a short-lived newspaper called "El Democrata" in 1892, and was promptly tried for certain crimes against the regime of dictator Porfirio Diaz.

The editor of the newspaper stood for him, claiming he wrote the installments, not Frias, and everybody walked.

highwayscribery read "Tomochic" in Spanish, but if this translation is good, and if you've read McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," strong parallels may become apparent.

Like McCarthy (or vice versa), Frias renders a stark mountain desert landscape in gorgeous pastoral terms that contrast beautifully with the crude reality of his battle portrayals.

"Tomochic" follows an unfolding tragedy through the eyes of a misbegotten second lieutenant who falls in love with a maiden on the enemy side.

It's a loose narrative with just enough development to keep the story from slipping into a straight, if poetically tinted, account of a military campaign. The narrative does not have a classic structure to the extent it is journalistic and life often follows less convenient rhythms than storytelling begs of us.

There is an opening battle in which the lieutenant's company, and comrades from other outfits, are largely routed by the defenders of Tomochic and the mayhem described is enough to send any draft-aged American sprinting for the Canadian border.

It is worth pointing out here that the people of Tomochic are not indigenous victims of criollo (white-European) expansion, but folks of good Iberian stock who take up their cudgels against what, ensuing events will confirm, is a brutal national government.

The rebels' ferocious initial stand aside, the Army gets enough booze and food into its boys to proceed in crushing the remaining band - women and children included - with a machine-like mindlessness.

That's not a spoiler. "Tomochic" is sold and packaged as the story of brutal repression in the Mexican hinterlands.

Frias doesn't go into a ton of editorializing. He takes no sides, sees heroism in the army youths sent to do a pointless job, sees nobility in the steadfast guerillas, paints the ironies of a Mexico where Pima Indians help federales put down a revolt of Catholic devout.

The author's loyal and detailed accounting of the military's actions are condemnation enough.

At a certain point, there are too few surviving Tomochitecos to harm anyone. But the army stays on partying, killing slowly, burning villagers alive in their homes and church, piling battlefield cadavers into bonfires that are then fed upon by swine roaming the impromptu death camp.

There is little in the mop-up job to recommend the dictatorship, the Mexican Army, or any other modern killing machine for that matter.

There is only a foreboding sense that humanity hasn't advanced one wit since Frias' picturesque cavalry road into the valley of Tomochic, blind, dusty, and blood-lusty.
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