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Thomas Mann, John E. Woods
The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir
Norman Manea, Angela Jianu
The Guillotine Squad - Guillermo Arriaga I haven't seen any of the Arriaga/Iñárritu movies because they seemed too tough to watch, but this doesn't mean I wasn't curious about this Mexican (script)writer. Especially when I found the first book he had published in a second-hand bookstore, for 1.50 $. Yup, sometimes my reading flow goes with the bargains that I find on the way.

I was neither prepared to like it, nor dislike it, a state of mind that I wish I had with every book that I read. What I enjoyed most of all in The Guillotine Squad was the dark humor, a feature that I've always welcomed in books and movies.

The main character is Feliciano Velasco y Borbolla de la Fuente, a merchant who studied Law School, member of the high class and supporter of Porfirio Díaz. He comes into the wolf's den, meaningly Pancho Villa's insurgent army, to sell him a replica of the French guillotine, which he had perfected himself. Instead of money, he gets an undesired payment - Villa makes him a captain in his army, and thus begins a series of adventures and misadventures that will carry Feliciano on the unreliable waves of fate, rising him to the top only to throw him on the lowest pit. All over again.

Feliciano is in fact the anti-hero in this novelette: he is terrified of fights, he cannot defend his beliefs, he ditches a friend who gets executed. He is a coward whose only aim is to save his skin. Serving under Pancho Villa will shape Feliciano and make him reconsider his life, but not necessarily change him for good. As far as a main character's trajectory goes, I was expecting the classic turn of events - Feliciano undergoes some major personality changes, gives up his beliefs and wholeheartedly embraces the Revolution. But no. Although he is tempted to become a hero and thus an immortal part of history, he cannot oversee the fact that he had neglected and almost denied his true destiny.

I've enjoyed the way Arriaga portrays Pancho Villa, this emblem of the Mexican Revolution, a man who, despite his simple origins and lack of education, had an intuitive knowledge of people and life, a man who was a brave fighter and a brilliant war strategist. Obviously, he also had his flaws.


I must confess that I'm in love with Mexico (I wish I'd go there one day) and for this reason I've enjoyed the book even more.