A Mexico book by Victor Villaseñor
I reviewed the forerunner of this novel, “Rain of Gold”, a short time ago and reported that I really enjoyed it, even though I don’t normally read many family sagas. The first book was based on the history of the author’s mother’s family. This book is a kind of sequel in which Villaseñor tells us about his father’s family, who are of mixed Indian and Spanish blood. The father of the family is an exiled Spaniard who married an Indian woman.
If you’re wondering about the title, “Wild Steps of Heaven”, it is simply a metaphor for life itself, as explained in the last paragraph of the book.
“And so they began to dance, to laugh, to rejoice, and the heavens opened and the earth parted like a ripe woman, and all the universe smiled and sang with them. And all was well – who had the eyes to see and the ears to hear: life was, indeed, a living miracle, a dance up the wild steps of heaven!”
The setting of the story is around 1910, the time of the Mexican Revolution and the war is an ever-present background to the story. It’s a time when great cruelties were imposed on the Indian populace by the country’s rulers. Indeed, genocide is the only word you could use to describe what happened. The villain of the piece is a colonel of the Rurales who makes it his personal mission to see that every Indian dies in the most hideous fashion possible. As villains go – and let’s face it, they’re essential to a good story – this one is a real bastard.
Part of the family action in the story concerns the youngest son, Jose, who is banished from the family by the autocratic father but later returns to play a leading role in defending the family against the Rurales.
My difficulty with the overall telling of this story is that it doesn’t quite take place in the world as I know it. Rather, it seems to be happening on a huge three-level stage with Earth as the middle level and Heaven and Hell as the upper and lower levels. The characters are constantly referring to Mother Earth and Father Sun. Even though there’s loads of action and the actual setting is plainly realistic and historic there’s no end of magic and belief in gods and demons and omens and signs and miracles and ghosts and saints. Some of the characters seem to be forever reading larger meanings into everything that happens.
And so you get lots of passages like the following:
“Why do you think that it was you who summoned the Devil the night of the full moon and that you’re now the last male left?” said Jose to his little brother. “And why do you think that I was the one who suffered our father’s wrath and got thrown out of our home, and then it was I who brought peace between us. Because, Juan, there are no accidents in life. In our native tongue the word accident does not even exist…no matter how life turns you and twists you, the stars above are always with you. That’s why we must forgive our father and these colonels, because they just don’t know.”
The author is describing a people who clearly think in a different way from you and me and I have to say there were times when it took a little getting used to.
I have a minor quibble with the narrative too. It’s the over-use of Spanish phrases. I personally have no problem with most of what I read but I wonder what a unilingual reader would make of phrases like:
“….if only we open up nuestros corazones!”
“They now know who we really are, and we’re… chingonese, a todo dar.”
“I think I’m going to get boracha a toda madre,” she said.
There seem to be hundreds of examples of such expressions and cross-lingual dialog throughout the story, some of them translated, some of them not. They at least give a feeling of Spanish-Indian atmosphere to the story but I’m not sure they’re that much of an asset to the reader’s understanding.
In my humble O: I liked it – after all, it’s a well told, action-packed story – but not as much as “Rain of Gold.”
Wild Steps of Heaven
By Victor Villaseñor