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Mexico and Her Late Father : THE FALSE YEARS by Josefina Vicens translated by Peter G. Earle (Latin American Literary Review Press: $11.50, paper; 94 pp.; 0-935480-40-4)

January 28, 1990|Alejandro Morales | Morales teaches Mexican literature at the University of California, Irvine. and

Josefina Vicens is best known for her film scripts and her collaboration with Juan Rulfo. Dedicated to the Mexicana cinema, she served as secretary of Mexico's Screen Writers' Guild. She died in 1988.

Her first novel, "Blank Pages," which appeared in Mexico in 1958, is a psychological study of a narrator who produces a novel about a novel that he never writes.

More than 20 years later, Vicens published "The False Years" in 1982. Now translated, it is a powerful, profound and unadorned novel set entirely in the emotionally charged mind of a 19-year-old young man, Luis Alfonso Fernandez Jr., who stands before the grave of his father, Luis Alfonso (Poncho) Fernandez. While Luis Alfonso watches his mother and twin sisters clean the cross and trim the bougainvillea that flourishes on his father's tomb, he remembers the years before and after his father accidentally shot himself. This process of recollection constitutes a journey to Luis Alfonso's own personality. It forces him to analyze his father's excesses and it reveals the destructive power his father held over the lives of his wife, daughters and son.

Peter G. Earle offers a superb translation and a knowledgeable introduction in which he points out that Luis Alfonso, protagonist and narrator, is condemned to share his father's identity. Even after death, Poncho Fernandez continues to influence his son. Paternal authority reaches out from the grave and is symbolized in Luis Alfonso's inheritance. Poncho Fernandez's bequest to his son is limited to his first, second and last name, the .38 caliber colt with which he shot himself, his suit, his mistress, his carousing friends and political mafia.

Of all that Luis Alfonso receives, he does not inherit his father's aggressive personality nor does he accept headlong his libertine life style. His sensitivity to life and people permit him to examine his father's behavior toward family and friends, and to question his political and moral values. Yet in Luis Alfonso there dwells a hidden attraction and need for this repulsive man. A psychological dichotomy is at work in Luis Alfonso's mind. He desires autonomy from his father's influence, but he withdraws in memory to the childhood refuge of love and innocence created by his father.

Poncho Fernandez is like Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo, "a living hatred," yet a man who is loved. He represents destructive masculinity, un chingon, abusing and exploiting both those he despises and those he loves. He is a misogynist who betrays his wife and never recognizes his daughters publicly. In Poncho Fernandez's world, women exist only to serve men.

Poncho Fernandez epitomizes institutionalized Mexican political corruption. He operates in a political system in which success is only guaranteed by whom you know, where influence is power: "There are only two worthwhile careers," he says, "the influential man's and that of the influential man's friend."

Vicens' protagonist understands how life and death complement and intrude on each other's space. This is why Luis Alfonso can feel, smell, hear and speak to his father. "Do you know what it is to remain at the edge of yourself, just looking at yourself?" She is the heirto the tradition of Mexican necrophilia, where life and death dance.

Vicens' "The False Years" fuses the history of two modern generations. It is a poetic, succinct novel that criticizes the corruption of the Mexican political system, criticizes the negative effects of social and family traditions and offers the reader a balanced inside view of Mexican contemporary life.

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