BATTLES IN THE DESERT by José Emilio Pacheco
Translated by Katherine Silver
You have to give it to Carlos, the child narrator, of Pacheco’s cult classic, Battles In The Desert. The kid’s certainly got guts. Hopelessly in love with his best friend’s mum, he does something none of us would deign to consider; he wags school one day, knocks on her door, and spills his heart out to her. Needless to say, it doesn’t go as he’d hoped, but what initially seems like a disaster compassionately averted by the older woman turns out to be the catalyst for something very, very sinister.
Battles In The Desert is a deceptively simple tale of childhood lust and dashed dreams set among the class tensions and dirty political dealings of a downtrodden Mexican neighbourhood. I spent much of my time admiring the sweet sincerity of Carlos’s voice but wondering why the book was held in such high esteem. Then came the last chapter and, hoo boy… things got dark. Apparently Pacheo revised the text multiple times, slightly altering it from one edition to the next. The ending in this new translation wasn’t added until his last pass and changed what I’m sure was a lovely, wistful book into an unnerving classic.
Battles In The Desert by José Emilio Pacheco (Tr. Katherine Silver)
New Directions, 2021