The Underdogs: A Novel Of The Mexican Revolution

Paperback | July 29, 2008

byMariano AzuelaForeword byCARLOS FUENTESTranslated bySergio Waisman

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The greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution, in a brilliant new translation by an award-winning translator

The Underdogs is the first great novel about the first great revolution of the twentieth century. Demetrio Macias, a poor, illiterate Indian, must join the rebels to save his family. Courageous and charismatic, he earns a generalship in Pancho Villa’s army, only to become discouraged with the cause after it becomes hopelessly factionalized. At once a spare, moving depiction of the limits of political idealism, an authentic representation of Mexico’s peasant life, and a timeless portrait of revolution, The Underdogs is an iconic novel of the Latin American experience and a powerful novel about the disillusionment of war.

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The greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution, in a brilliant new translation by an award-winning translator The Underdogs is the first great novel about the first great revolution of the twentieth century. Demetrio Macias, a poor, illiterate Indian, must join the rebels to save his family. Courageous and charismatic, he earns a general...

Mariano Azuela (1873–1952) studied medicine in Guadalajara and served during the revolution as a doctor with the forces of Pancho Villa, which gave him firsthand exposure to the events and characters that appear in The Underdogs.   Sergio Waisman (translator, notes) is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Awar...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:176 pages, 7.7 × 5.1 × 0.5 inPublished:July 29, 2008Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143105272

ISBN - 13:9780143105275

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Table of ContentsTitle PageCopyright PageForewordIntroductionPART 1IIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIXIIXIIIXIVXVXVIXVIIXVIIIXIXXXXXIPART 2IIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIXIIXIIIXIVPART 3IIIIIIIVVVIVIINotesPENGUIN CLASSICSTHE UNDERDOGSMARIANO AZUELA (1873-1952), the most prolific novelist of the Mexican Revolution and the author of its most important novel, was born in a small city in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. He studied medicine in Guadalajara and served during the revolution as a doctor with the forces of Pancho Villa, which gave him firsthand exposure to the events and characters that appear in The Underdogs. Azuela is buried in the Rotonda de Hombres Ilustres, Mexico’s equivalent of Westminster Abbey.SERGIO WAISMAN has translated Ricardo Piglia’s The Absent City, for which he received a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Award, and three books for Oxford University Press’s Library of Latin America series. He is the author of Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery and the novel Leaving, and is an associate professor of Spanish at The George Washington University.CARLOS FUENTES is the author of more than twenty books, including This I Believe, The Death of Artemio Cruz, and The Old Gringo. His many awards include the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, the National Prize in Literature (Mexico’s highest literary award), the Cervantes Prize, and the inaugural Latin Civilization Award. He served as Mexico’s ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977 and currently divides his time between Mexico City and London.PENGUIN BOOKSPublished by the Penguin GroupPenguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, EnglandPenguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre,Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, IndiaPenguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South AfricaPenguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, EnglandThis translation first published in Penguin Books 2008Translation copyright © Sergio Waisman, 2008 Foreword copyright © Carlos Fuentes, 2008 All rights reservedLos de abajo published in the United States of America in 1915.ISBN : 978-1-4406-3852-7CIP data availableThe scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other meanswithout the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase onlyauthorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracyof copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.Foreword“Revolutions begin fighting tyranny and end fighting themselves. ” So said Saint-Just, the French revolutionary who in 1794 was guillotined in the combat between the factions once united against the monarchy. Is this the fate of all revolutionary movements? It does seem to be the case: Russia, China, Cuba. The United States completed its exclusive 1776 revolution and faced Shays’ Rebellion only through civil war and battles over civil rights.The Mexican Revolution (1910-20 in its armed phase) began as a united movement against the three decades of authoritarian rule of General Porfirio Díaz. Its democratic leader, Francisco Madero, came to power in 1911 and was overthrown and murdered in 1913 by the ruthless general Victoriano Huerta, who promptly restored the dictatorship and was opposed by the united forces of Venustiano Carranza, Álvaro Obregón, and Francisco “Pancho” Villa in the north and those of the agrarian leader Emiliano Zapata in the south. But when Huerta, defeated, fled in 1915, the revolution broke up into rival factions. Zapata and Villa came to represent popular forces, agrarian and small town, while Carranza and Obregón were seen as leaders of the rising middle class that Díaz had suffocated under the patrimonialist regime of huge haciendas using low-paid peon labor.Mariano Azuela (1873-1952) was a country doctor who joined first Carranza, then Villa. In 1915, right in the middle of the war, he sat down and wrote a disenchanted tale of revolution sprung from one man’s experience. A chronicle, a novel, a testimony, The Underdogs is all of this, but above all it is a degraded epic, a barefoot Iliad sung by men and women rising from under the weight of history, like insects from beneath a heavy stone. Moving in circles, blinded by the sun, without a moral or political compass, they come out of darkness, abandoning their homes, migrating from hearth to revolution.The people of Mexico are “the armies of the night” in Azuela’s book. They give the reader the impression of a violent, spontaneous eruption. But be warned. The immediacy that Azuela brings to the people is a result of the long mediacy of oppression: half a millennium of authoritarian rule by Aztec, colonial, and republican powers. If this weight of the past at least partly explains the brutality of the present, it applies not only to the mass of the people but also to the protagonists, the leaders, the individuals that Azuela thrusts forward: the revolutionary general Demetrio Macías and the revolutionary intellectual “Curro” Cervantes, accompanied by a host of supporting players. Like the people, Macías and Cervantes are heirs to a history of authoritarian power and submission. But if the rebellious mass is moving, however blindly, against the past, Macías and Cervantes are repeating the past. They are rehearsing the role of the Indian, Spanish, and republican oppressor, Macías on the active front and Cervantes on the intellectual side. They both see Mexico as their personal patrimony. They want to be fathers, judges, teachers, protectors, jailers, and, if need be, executioners of the people, but always in the name of the people.The Underdogs thus presents us with a wide view of the social, political, and historical traits of Mexico and, by extension, of Latin America: it is a degraded epic but also a chronicle of political failure and of aspiring nationhood. There are no Latin American novels prior to independence in the 1820s. I might say that it is the nation that demands its narration, but also that narration needs a nation to narrate. This, indeed, links the origins of both the North American and Latin American novel. Whatever they actually are, they first appeared along with “the birth of the nation.”The novel is a critical event. Religion demands faith, logic demands reason, politics demands ideology. The novel demands criticism: critique of the world, along with a critique of itself. While literature and the imagination are deemed superfluous (especially) in satisfied societies, the first thing a dictatorship does is to censor writing, burn books, and exile, imprison, or murder writers.Do we need authoritarian repression to demonstrate the importance of literature, the critical freedom of words and the imagination? I cannot separate Azuela’s moral and literary significance from the fact that he drew a critical portrait of the Mexican revolutionary movement as it was happening, setting a standard of critical freedom that has prevailed in my country in spite of seven decades of authoritarian rule by a single party. There has been repression in Mexico—of political parties, individuals, unions, agrarian movements, journalists—but writers have maintained a high degree of critical independence. This is thanks to a very early exercise of this independence by Mariano Azuela and The Underdogs, followed by the critical chronicles of Martín Luis Guzmán, José Vasconcelos, and Rafael Muñoz.This critical tradition against all odds should be compared with the silence imposed on Soviet writers by Stalinism, the exile of German writers from Nazi Germany, or the persecution of North American authors during the McCarthy era. The margin of critical and creative freedom, menaced by the political powers—always, everywhere—was maintained in Mexico thanks, in great measure, to the stakes planted by Mariano Azuela.Azuela began his writing career with a Zolaesque naturalist novel, María Luisa (1907), and went on to register the foibles of politics (Andrés Pérez, maderista, 1911), political bosses (Los caciques, 1917), the middle classes (Tribulaciones de una familia decente, 1918) and the labor movement (El camarada Pantoja, 1937). The Underdogs (Los de abajo), nevertheless, remains his signature book, and its universal import is well taken as he describes human conduct that has the troubling quality of repeating itself everywhere and in all historical periods. The forces of social ascent and corruption: “Now we are the swells,” the grotesque camp follower La Pintada [War Paint] says as she assumes the heritage of the former proprietors.Corruption unites the best and the worst. In one of the greatest scenes of the novel, several characters, pretending to sleep, see the others in the act of stealing. A common language of dishonesty, cover-up, and government by kleptocracy is born. It is a thieves’ pact of worldwide resonance. This is, indeed, a disenchanted epic, in which fatality engenders bitterness and bitterness enhances fatality, both illustrated by the scene where General Macías rolls a stone down a hill, murmuring: “Look at this stone, how it cannot stop.”And yet, perhaps this epic of failures (or failed epic) is a great novel because, for all its realism, even in spite of its cynicism, it is astonished by a world it no longer understands. And it is this wonderful sense of surprise that gives Los de abajo its lasting wonder.—CARLOS FUENTESIntroductionThe Underdogs is the most important novel of the Mexican Revolution. In its pages, we follow the actions of a band of revolutionaries—led by the protagonist, Demetrio Macías— at the height of the revolution’s armed phase, from 1913 to 1915. The novel works mainly with realism to portray many of the harsh details and effects of the revolution, indirectly drawing our attention to the possible motivations that drive Demetrio Macías and his men to fight. The novel is written in fragmentary prose, and although it is interspersed with moments of beautiful description, it is driven primarily by the dialogue of the protagonists and the surrounding characters themselves. This, combined with frequent, jarring narrative changes—such as alterations in verb tense; choppy, staccato exchanges in the dialogue; and temporal and spatial jumps—serves to reflect the jarring experiences that the characters encounter.

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INTRODUCTIONIt begins in fire. On a dark night in the Mexican Sierra, an undisciplined band of Federales fighting for the despised dictator Victoriano Huerta descend upon the rancho of Demetrio Macías, who has already won a reputation for courage in the skirmishes of the Mexican Revolution. Although Macías initially drives the intruders away, they return, setting his home ablaze and setting in motion the taut, violent drama of The Underdogs, the most celebrated novel of the Mexican Revolution and the signature work of doctor, novelist, and revolutionary Mariano Azuela.A brilliant marksman and a popular leader, Macías assumes command of a band of disaffected peasants and shapes them into a potent guerrilla fighting force. Despite their poor equipment and inferior numbers, Macías’s men win a series of convincing victories over the hated Federales. Soon the band absorbs an unlikely ally in the person of Luis Cervantes, a city aristocrat, or curro, whose disgust with the injustice of his country’s society has led him to embrace the growing Mexican Revolution. Cervantes, a well-read medical student, attempts to give the illiterate Macías an education in political idealism, and for a time they appear to share a vision of a new and better Mexico. However, the brutal realities of life at war gradually eat away at the ideals of the revolution, and the violence of Macías and his men becomes ever more difficult to restrain. The fiery idealism that has scorched the foundations of power now threatens to erupt into an inferno of anarchic rage, and the revolution that the common people had hailed as a blessing seems likely to transform into the blackest of curses.In The Underdogs, Azuela drew heavily upon his own firsthand experiences as a doctor in the revolutionary army of Julián Medina, one of Pancho Villa’s generals. A dedicated foe of the privileged classes who dominated Mexico throughout his youth, Azuela had been stirred by the promise of radical political change that he saw in the Mexican revolution. Nevertheless,The Underdogs is neither a sentimental memoir nor a one-sided, political propagandistic tract. An uncompromising artist, Azuela eschewed such simplicity. Although the early chapters of his novel gleam with the idealism of a bold political cause, Azuela gradually blends darker tones into his literary palette. His revolutionaries begin to reveal themselves as men of ignorant brutality, and the more enlightened among them discover to their horror that they may be serving only to erect “an enormous pedestal upon which . . . monsters . . . might arise.” Narrated with passion, filled with arresting character sketches, and haunted by the specter of blighted dreams, The Underdogs is an outstanding work of artistic and political realism, both speaking to the greatest hopes of mankind and lending credence to our deepest fears. ABOUT MARIANO AZUELAMariano Azuela was born into a grocer’s family in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico, on New Year’s Day, 1873. As a boy, during summers spent at a small farm owned by his father, he learned the slang and vocal rhythms of the common people—effects he was later to reproduce in his fiction. Although he enrolled in a Catholic seminary at fourteen, Azuela soon abandoned his religious studies and, after a brief period of indecision, became a medical student at the University of Guadalajara. After becoming a doctor in 1899, Azuela divided his energies between medical practice and writing. The 1908 publication of his novel Los Fracasados (The Failures) identified him as a novelist of promise.In 1910, Azuela’s peaceful pursuits were disrupted when a revolutionary force under Francisco Madero overthrew the repressive dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. Azuela, who sided with the Maderistas, briefly served the Madero regime as chief of political affairs in Lagos de Moreno. However, in 1913, in the counterrevolution led by Victoriano Huerta, Madero was assassinated and Azuela joined the rebel forces of Pancho Villa. As the result of a series of experiences similar to those of Luis Cervantes, a character in The Underdogs, Azuela became head of the medical staff in the revolutionary army of General Julián Medina, who served as an inspiration for another character in The Underdogs, Demetrio Macías. Forced to immigrate to El Paso, Texas, Azuela settled there and reworked his memories of the revolution into a novel, Los de Abajo, known to English-speaking readers as The Underdogs. In 1917, Azuela moved to Mexico City, where he continued to write and practice medicine for the rest of his life.Initially slow to win a popular following, The Underdogs captured international critical acclaim in the mid-1920s, establishing Azuela as the preeminent novelist of the Mexican Revolution. In 1942, Azuela was honored with Mexico’s national prize for literature, and, in 1949, he received the national prize for arts and sciences. He died in 1952. DISCUSSION QUESTIONSIn the first chapter of The Underdogs, Macías has a chance to kill the Federales who will soon after come back and destroy his house. However, he lets them go, and the only explanation he gives is that it was not the Federales’s time to die. What do this choice and this explanation show about Macías’s character? Do these traits remain consistent throughout the novel?Some translators of The Underdogs have chosen to leave the nicknames of Macías’s men in their original Spanish. How does translator Sergio Waisman’s choice to translate the names, for instance, turning “el Manteca” into “Lard” and “Cordoniz” into “Quail,” affect the reading of the book? Do you prefer seeing the names translated or untranslated? Why?Early in the novel, Macías and twenty of his followers fire two rounds at an ambushed group of Federales and, somewhat astonishingly, every single shot results in a deadly wound. Why do you think Azuela attributes such incredible accuracy to Macías and his men? Does his building up of their legend detract from the realism of the novel? Does Azuela overly idealize Macías and the revolution during Part One of the novel?Although the captured curro Luis Cervantes promptly identifies himself as a medical student, several scenes pass before it occurs to anyone in Macías’s band that he might treat Macías’s gunshot wound. What accounts for this slow response, and what does it suggest about the social gap that separates the curro from the other men who fight alongside Macías?After having lived among Macías’s men awhile, Cervantes States his belief that Macías has not yet understood the importance of his role in the revolution—what Cervantes calls Macías’ “true . . . high . . . most noble ambition.” What prevents Macías from seeing his mission as Cervantes sees it? How is the limitation of Macías’s vision emblematic of the shortcomings of the revolution?Although The Underdogs contains a few significant female characters, it remains fundamentally a man’s novel. Does Azuela do enough to represent the position of women in Mexican society and in the revolution? What, if anything, would you have done differently to tell this aspect of the story?Having been a doctor in Julián Medina’s army, which served Pancho Villa during the revolution, Mariano Azuela had much in common with his character Luis Cervantes. Do you think Azuela uses Cervantes to express points of view that were likely to have been similar to Azuela’s? When? How does Cervantes’s opinion of the revolution change as the novel develops?Discuss the relationship between Macías and Cervantes. What do they gain from each other? Does each have something to teach that the other is incapable of learning? What, if anything, is lacking in their friendship?It is a principal irony of The Underdogs that the revolutionaries who set out to rid their country of oppression and injustice end up adopting the corrupt values and practices of their enemies. Why does this happen? Does Azuela regard the betrayal of the revolution as inevitable, or does he see an alternative?Imagine that you are directing a film version of The Underdogs. What scene would you find most interesting to dramatize, and why? How would you shoot the scene?What do you think of Cervantes’s decision to leave the revolutionaries and immigrate to El Paso? Is he to be praised for abandoning a cause he could no longer morally support, or is he to be condemned for leaving his comrades in a desperate time?Toward the end of The Underdogs, Macías and his men begin to encounter government forces armed with machine guns. What does the rise of modern warfare signify for men like Macías, and for the future of revolutionary uprisings in general?In the next to last chapter of the novel, Macías tells his wife that, having started on a violent path, he can no more stop fighting in the revolution than a pebble tossed into a canyon can stop falling. What are the qualities of this image that make it effective and memorable? Do you think Macías is right?At the end of the novel, as Macías boldly defends himself in a last desperate battle, it seems likely that he will be killed at any moment. However, instead of narrating Macías’s death, Azuela leaves the reader with the image of him still fighting. What is the effect of this choice on the way the reader finally perceives Azuela’s hero and the revolution for which he fights?

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“Mariano Azuela, more than any other novelist of the Mexican Revolution, lifts the heavy stone of history to see what there is underneath it.”—Carlos Fuentes (from the Foreword)