My rating: 5 of 5 stars
HEADLINE: The first non-fiction work that I have completed since I swore off novels was a dandy.
Why did the Mexicans, children of two great peoples, produce for themselves the 10 years of bloodshed and chaos described by Ronald Atkin in his vivid and informative work, Revolution: Mexica 1910-1920?
Well, it was partly the superb climate, which is capable of producing such natural catastrophes as hurricanes which drop 10 thousand million tons of water “upon the place beneath,” as Shakespeare said regarding another mood of Providence, but usually sends one perfect day after another in the dry season and in the wet season warms its rains and times them with convenient regularity.
When the leaders said to the masses, “Take up your guns in the course of liberty, and follow me into the hills,” they were calling them to face hardship and death, but this cry, ideological as it might be in its origins, was affeced by the weather. The proof of that is the rarity with which Esquimaux extend such invitations to each other. Selling the concept of guerrilla warfare from igloo to igloo, that would be a test of salesmanship.
The Mexicans made the revolution not so much because they were ferocious and in love with chaos, but because they had guns, as people must who live where homesteads are far apart and there are wild beasts, and there was this good weather they could ride out into, feeling they had a good day for it, whatever that it might be, a fiesta or a battle.
That is from Rebecca West’s review of Revolution: Mexica 1910-1920. The review is included in the Appendix to Survivors in Mexico, her unfinished work about that country. It is a nice example of the kind of simple insight of which she was capable–the premise that the wonderful weather in Mexico formed a good venue for revolution. She was also capable of very complex insights. A brilliant person.
One can get a glimpse of where Rebecca West intended to go with this book by taking a look at her completed masterpiece on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. She simply did not, because of age and other factors, have the opportunity to tie this one all up. She did leave us with some wonderfully entertaining reading concerning Mexico, however. It is a subject with which I am fascinated now that I live there. This is an informative and an unexpectedly entertaining read.
The book proper devotes only a brief chapter to the Revolution. Her review of Robert Atkin’s book supplements it wonderfully therefore. The book does contain chapters on Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, and the sights and sounds and institutions of Mexico City. Her great chapters on Hernán Cortés, Montezuma and his capitol, and the Aztecs generally, brings those characters and that place alive in a way they certainly were not during my semester of Latin American history at university long ago.
It is her chapters on the forgotten Mexican artist Dr. Atl and the two brothers on the left, Elie and Elisée Reclus with whom she was acquainted in her youth, that really shine though. Men fascinated with volcanoes. The revolution in Mexican art was so central to the Revolution of 1910 and its aftermath. She clearly and vividly explains the how and the why of that.
As I have assured you all in my review of 2666, I am done with novels. I mean it. Don’t laugh. This first non-fiction book that I have completed since that resolution was a perfect transition for me out of the morass of big time fiction.