El Indio

El Indio

By Gregorio Lopez y Fuentes
Review by Herb Altman


el indioEl Indío was awarded Mexico’s National Prize for Literature. The author, Lopez y Fuentes, was at the time the editor of a daily newspaper in Mexico City and had already achieved some renown. One of Mexico’s foremost artists, Diego Rivera, illustrated the novel. Opposite the title page is a pen and ink sketch of a handsome young Indian with high cheek-bones and an unruly head of black hair. His chiseled features express great contempt. From under strong black brows, he glares angrily at the reader, as if to say: “What the hell are you doing here in my face?”

The novel’s opening line, “Terror swept through the village when the three strange men appeared” passes the “Call me Ishmael” (Moby Dick) test, and the reader is compelled to continue. The three white men are Mexicans of Spanish descent out on a quest for gold. But they tell the Indians they are collecting only exotic plants which will ultimately benefit the Indians themselves. Then one of the white men returns the Indians’ hospitality by trying to rape a young maiden. The tribe rebels against the intruders, and will neither trade with them, nor even give them water.

But the leader of the trio produces a letter purportedly from the governor of the state, directing the Indians to cooperate. The letter contains an implicit threat. The elders of the tribe decide they had best cooperate, for otherwise the governor might send troops up into the village.

“What do the white men want?” one of the elders asks, trying to hang onto his solemn sense of dignity. “A guide,” answers the interpreter.

Once out on the arduous trail, pushing up through rugged mountains, the men tire of the charade and try to force their young guide to disclose the whereabouts of the gold. Tying his hands behind him, they torture the guide for several hours.

But the young man remains silent, and when his captors pause to discuss what they should do next, the Indian guide leaps into a nearby ravine and runs down the mountain. Off balance, with his hands still tied behind his back, he finally falls, smashing his legs. The white men cannot find him in the thick brush and return to the village, where they tell the elders that the guide will be along soon. Then the intruders hurriedly leave, fearing that the guide has lived through his ordeal, and will arrive to tell the elders the true story.

As the white men are going down the mountain, the crippled guide appears on the shoulders of a hunter who has found him. Furious that the strangers lied to them, the Indians roll boulders down at them. One of the rocks strikes and kills the expedition’s leader. The elders fear that government troops will soon be on the march. The Indians decide to abandon the village and seek refuge higher up in the mountains.

The triangle between the three young people captured my interest, though I would have liked to have known more of how the girl felt about the decision that determines the course of the rest of her life. Yet apart from this minor reservation, the easy-to-read and poetic language of El Indio gripped my attention from start to finish, and certainly accomplished what good novels are supposed to do: teach, while they entertain.

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Ojo Del Lago
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