Ever since I participated in a specific Daily Post Challenge and used one of my favourite books of them all for it, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, I had the little urge of working more with books, as it is part of my educational formation and, obviously, I need to give some use to what I’ve learned during these years of excruciating pain, don’t you think?
And thus, I thought it would be a nice idea to present some Hispanic little gems to the English-speaking public (as I tend to read Latin American literature over other international titles), especially with this specific author that suddenly reminded me of the dark side of life.
As you may guess, José Revueltas is a rather unknown author, even in Mexico, possibly because of his status as communist (let’s remember that the only red that our actual government’s tolerating so far is that of blood) and because of the few demand of his books. I happened to meet his work by chance for a school assignment, but I reread a book of his some days ago in search for inspiration for a project I am currently working for. And this rereading made me catch several key factors that I didn’t see in the day I met this text, and thus I decided to talk about it and, hopefully, open the curiosity among my English speaking readers so they can come give a try to this magnificent piece of underrated literature.
The book I am talking about is Los días terrenales, whose literal English title is The Earthly Days.
What’s Los días terrenales about? Well, there’s not much to tell on this book. In fact, the plot it’s very, very simple: it’s the daily routine of the Mexican communists during the first half of the 20th century. That’s all. I swear to you, this is all. Or better said, it starts with a young Mexican communist, Gregorio Saldívar, helping a group of indigenous people during a fishing night, until they accidentally kill the head of a local group when they mistake him with a crocodile. This triggers some discomfort inside of his party, which will call for him in the next days to reassign him to another task for the communist agenda, which is, as you may guess, hidden and secret from the public, to conceal itself from the regime.
And…well, this is not all, but it’s the actual and straightforward plot of the book. In fact, Los días terrenales distinguishes itself from other Mexican works because of its prose and ambivalent way to connect past with present. You might be reading, for example, how Gregorio’s admiring one of the heads of the indigenous group, El Tuerto Ventura, and then suddenly the prose will jump to the day Ventura lost his eye and narrate it in a rather dark and violent way. It might sound annoying and even unnecessary, but trust me: it is done in a masterful way, almost as if it was the only way possible to give this character his background and humanity, as Revueltas is not a noob in literature. He really knows what the hell he’s doing and he achieves it with his style.
As a matter of fact, I think it is the Revueltas’ prose the pinnacle of this book.
Such simple plot is interwoven with very philosophical prose and a poetic description of the characters’ motivations and political ideas, aside of their emotional struggles with their life and themselves. For example, one of the main characters, Fidel, appears only from two to three chapters in total, and we only see him typewriting coldly and submerged into the communist agenda while the corpse of his baby daughter, Bandera, is abandoned in her cradle, with his wife, Julia, as the sole mourner of the poor child. This is the sole action of those two characters in a scene: writing and mourning. But the prose dives us into their psyche, their memories, how they met each other and how they’re reacting internally to their daughter’s premature death in her very own home.
In fact, if you’re looking for a book that includes lots of dialogue and external action, this book might not be for you. Most of the action occurs inside of the characters, in the way they contemplate and philosophize their life, and in the way the narrator presents to us the real personas behind those modern rebels which, in appearance, might seem too idealistic, cold or even naïve, as all of them have a distinct view of what Communist should be like.
Just in case you don’t believe me, allow me to translate the very first lines of the book so you can have an idea of Revueltas’ apocalyptic prose:
In the beginning, there was Chaos, yet suddenly that excruciating spell shattered into pieces and life came to be. The atrocious human life.
Contrary to what it might seem, Los días terrenales wasn’t actually a darling among the communists back then. In fact, because of its rather harsh criticism towards the ideology of that time (courtesy of Fidel’s rather cold, if not inhuman, left wing tendencies, which include treating his daughter’s death as a sacrifice in favour of the party), it was both unpopular with the right wing leaders and the left wing leaders. Revueltas was a proud red wing activist, but he was also dissatisfied with the local communist party and the way it leaded itself. Go figure how much controversy this book got!
Possibly because of that extremist left wing approach, and because of the author himself, this book is just known by very few people inside of the nation, and obviously he’s almost a ghost outside of Mexico.
However, I truly want this to change, as I think this book is a vanguard if we take into consideration its context and the power of its poetic prose, especially during the ending. In fact, the ending is the whole sum of power that Revueltas’ prose can bring into the reader. I recommend it due to its philosophical approach to the life and Communism, and even more because it is not as long as one would expect it to be.
Sadly, and as I said, I am not sure there is an English translation, so Spanish readings are the only ones available. However, if you happen to find it on English, or in any other language you read as well, trust me, it’s worth the time. It truly opens your mind and your conception of language, politics and even of Communism itself.
A recommended reading.
Thanks a lot for reading!