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Che Guevara « bookmarkzero

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Posts Tagged ‘Che Guevara’

Shelf Life: The Quixote Cult

Thursday, January 28, 2010 @ 12:01 AM  posted by Mark

Genaro Gonzalez’s The Quixote Cult, a droll coming-of-age novel set in an anonymous Texas town near the Rio Grande, is steeped in drugs, socialist politics and good humor. As a record of Chicano political activism and the struggles of barrio youth against poverty, The Quixote Cult offers an unsimplified glimpse at the intricacies of raza life.

The Quixote Cult describes the exploits of the budding teenage revolutionary De la O, a Chicano hippie, whose mother is illiterate and whose barrio shack has no hot water. The year is 1970, and though many of De la O’s friends are drop-outs, recidivists, or Army draftees, De la O himself has found an intellectual respite from his harsh surroundings by reading Kerouac, Nietzsche, and crime-and-punishment-style pulp comics. He excels in school and wins an honors scholarship to his local college, where he joins MANO (the Mexican-American National Organization), a group of grass-roots socialist activists.

With no clearly defined narrative arc, The Quixote Cult is less a novel than a prose elegy about the plight of Chicanos in general and the difficulty of coming of age in a minority culture in particular. Because Gonzalez’s narrator is just a teenager, the importance of individual events and people in his life are charmingly out of balance: an armed confrontation with some racist, good-old-boy hunters holds less weight in the narrator’s mind than an embarrassing attempt at flirtation with a girl in English class. In fact, even when De la O first decides to join MANO, he does so half for political reasons and half for the opportunity of meeting women.

The primary strength of “The Quixote Cult” is De la O’s recognition of the incredible diversity of opinion in the Chicano community about the best approach to economic advancement. Half of MANO’s members are steeped in the romance of Che Guevara’s militant stance and martyr’s death, and half are nuts-and-bolts organizers concerned with registering voters and raising enough money to print leaflets. No matter their particular behavior, though, everyone in De la O’s community shares one thing in common: nearly everything they do is a reaction to the majority white culture, since their own culture simply doesn’t have the economic legs to stand on its own.

The Quixote Cult shines when De la O describes MANO’s volatile confrontations with the law or with white conservatives: in these scenes, Gonzalez’s understated prose and skewering one-liners provide wry counterpoint to otherwise deadly-earnest encounters. However, the same understated prose becomes a liability when Gonzalez grapples with De la O’s more stereotypical concerns about losing his virginity: in scenes of less pointed action and more emotional subtlety, the reserve of Gonzalez’s observations leaves his narrative stagnant, and De la O’s clumsy attempts at getting women into bed often fall flat.

As a paean to the lives of the poor, The Quixote Cult doesn’t suffer much in comparison to The Grapes of Wrath. Though Gonzalez’s narrative is flawed by a lack of clear purpose and his prose isn’t always lucid, his writing has a wry glint of humor that Steinbeck’s lacks.

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