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James Michener has, by my reckoning, written some 35 books, prominent among the Centennial, Texas, Alaska, Chesapeake -- and, to show that he does not limit himself to American themes, Caravans, Iberia, Hawaii and the Bridges of Toko-Ri. He is a superb story-teller, and his formula is fictional: he writes a novel as his central theme, but the characters are rooted in the soil and the history of his chosen country; their adventures reflect and embody its story. He is competent as geologist, as historian and as psychologist. And his books are rich in remarkable though 'minor' characters. Here, his central character Norman Clay is a Princeton-educated Virginian whose family roots have been in Mexico since Robert E. Lee soldiered there in the 1840s. He is sent to Mexico as a Spanish-speaking journalist, to cover the duel between two celebrated matadors. By this device, Clay and the readers discovers or re-discovers Mexico and its turbulent history and his family's part in it: Spaniard versus Indian, Catholic versus pagan, the quest for the exploitation of gold and silver, war, civil war and revolution in the twentieth century. The result is a gripping adventure story that becomes also a vivid portrait of a fascinating class-torn country, which is almost incidentally a tale of the sad, bitter and dirty -- and sometimes highly lucrative business -- of being a matador. For bull-fighting for Mexico as for Spain is art-form, sport, big business and festival. It is 'sunlight sculptured by a flaming cape' -- sordid, grisly, violent. But as told here it is near-poetry. This is a powerful and moving piece of work by one of America's best story-tellers.
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Author:Wright, Esmond
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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