Village In The Sun
By Dane Chandos
Book Review by Alice Hathaway
An old favorite is back in print! That’s the good news. The bad news may be that only 1,000 copies of the paperback edition were printed. They are selling fast at 75 pesos ($10 US) and may be all gone before the demand is satisfied.
Village In The Sun was written seventy years ago when Ajijic was a much smaller community than it is today. A cluster of adobe residences along its single main street housed the families of fishermen whose wooden canoes plied the lake to seine for whitefish, charales and catfish.
The book describes in vivid, loving detail the people and place where an outsider came to live shortly after the second World War. The author’s word-pictures present a scrapbook of lakeside life through all seasons of the year in a time when the road from Chapala to Jocotepec was a muddy trail with washouts in the rainy season.
Ice was delivered by bus from Guadalajara, dropped off beside the road and left in the sun. It was often easier to travel on public transportation by launch than to drive a private car on the unpaved roads.
The structure of the novel is that of a monthly journal during the year when the gringo narrator was settling into permanent residence in Ajijic, a predominantly lndian village on the north shore of Lake Chapala in Central Mexico. Starting in the summer rainy season, he takes the reader through the greening of the mountains, a storm that washed away a widow’s adobe house, and his purchase of lakefront property owned by an extended family that had inherited parcels from grandfather to sons to children, with each division cutting the land into ever smaller pieces.
When the land negotiations were accomplished, construction of his house, with a local contractor using traditional techniques and available materials, took the rest of the year to complete. Seasonal weather changes and annual festivals come and go with delightful attention to detail.
The book ends in May during the hottest month of the year, the driest and the dustiest. “It is the time when everything seems to go slowly, the men and the animals and the hours.” During these twelve months, we meet a wonderful cast of characters with whom the author interacted in various ways.
Candeleria, his cook, “scampers” about her kitchen; her compadre’s sister-in-law, Aurora, who did the laundry, “limped out of the house with a big washing basket on her tousled head.” Shy Nieves, the servant girl who lived down the street “had the thin nose with the eagle bend that gives the purer-blooded Indios an aristocratic look, and skin the color of golden tobacco.” Cayetano, hardly more than a boy, made himself indispensable, first in the garden, then as butler, bartender and negotiator. And dignified old Bernabe, the builder, added syllables in the middle of his words to make them longer and more impressive.
Dialog in chapter after chapter captures the cadence and grammar of the Spanish language as it was spoken by the lndians in Ajijic. Chandos translated the words in the order in which they were spoken, so the sentence structure is that of a foreign language. When he asked the child, Modesta, why she needed an empty bottle, she spoke in a breathless spate: “Pues, you see, señor, we had another but unfortunately I let it fall very lightly and it broke itself to me…”
When Primitivo blushed over some infraction, his friend said, “Look, now he’s in the oven.” And when old Remedios was hauled out of the well where she had fallen, she scolded 40-year old Candelaria, “Why do you upset yourself so, little daughter? I want my breakfast. And I want steak.”
Much has changed in Ajijic during the time since the book was written. Gringos from all over the world have nearly overtaken the native population. Housing has spread up the hills where gardens of corn, beans and squash used to grow. Fishing is no longer the major occupation of men—they are more apt to be gardeners tending flower beds for foreigners than repairing nets. And the house that suffered the most damage in a water-spout a couple of years ago was not an adobe hovel near the lake, but that of residents at the top of Tempisque. Their wall was undercut by a diverted stream, and their jaccuzi tumbled into the channel.
Older residents and newcomers alike will enjoy reading and rereading Village In The Sun. Those of us who had to check the book out of the library whenever foreign visitors arrived, are pleased to be able to have a copy of our own. The library’s originals had all disappeared, anyway. With this reissue, we can keep a copy on the bedside table in our guest rooms. Until someone decides to take it home, that is.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com