Rudolfo Anaya has refined his Mexican lodestone
with insistent purpose to ensure that his work carries moral force
The Man Who Could Fly
And Other Stories
2006, University of Oklahoma Press
197 pages (hardback)
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LIKE a magician from pre-modern times, Rudolfo Anaya has an uncanny ability to enchant through words and composition that augurs or portends.
This gift is, undoubtedly, a product of his Mexican origins and, in particular, the persistence of some elements of the oral tradition in the herding lifestyle which is the source of this great Chicano’s heritage.
The open and uncrowded landscape of Mexico, its distinctive colours and many images, and its lonesome, laconic peoples are the raw material that Anaya fashions into narratives that often combine the unreal with the brutally real to raise emotional intensity.
But he has refined this Mexican lodestone with insistent purpose to ensure that his work carries moral force and delivers critiques that reach into the belly of the reader and, at times, twist it between clenched fingers.
This is a man whose familiarity with personal suffering – one legacy of a serious diving accident as a youth has been lifelong pain – has given him a wisdom and intuitive understanding of the human condition that few writers achieve.
The Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories is, remarkably, the first collection in a single volume of Anaya’s short stories representing 30 years of work, and constitute one of the best introductions to this author focusing, as they sometimes do in overtly, on the art of storytelling itself.
Anaya combines insight with humour as his characters – at times real people placed into imagined worlds, such as Jerónimo the gardener – roam the roads of northern Mexico.
Jerónimo, for example, travels on the eve of the Day of the Dead from the manicured gardens in his care in Cuernavaca to the barren lands of his childhood in Pena Mayor with a false leg for his father. Upon his arrival home, we never quite learn whether the father is alive or dead, because it doesn’t matter. In this Mexico, death is transcendent.
In the title story, “The Man Who Could Fly”, we learn about the magical act of storytelling itself from Don Volo – who tells a story within a story – but also about its role, to deliver a message about belief in the impossible.
The moral vector seems particularly potent in “The Man Who Found a Pistol”, which poses an intriguing question about the allure of power and how we cannot trust ourselves with it. Similarly, “The Road to Platero” provides a striking exposition of the potential destructiveness of machismo.
Anaya makes sense of silence, something Mexico seems to have a lot of in so many respects, and his gift is the ability to turn this into simple, economic language that can cast a spell both powerful and enduring.