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The Uncomfortable Dead: A Novel of Four Handsby Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos
"[A] stunning narrative about the various ghosts that continue to haunt contemporary Mexican politics and national identity. It is also uproariously funny, as if Marcos and Taibo are trying to make each other laugh to keep from crying. The American edition features a marvelous translation, in which both the authors' poetic sensibility and penchant for wry one-liners come across in equal measure. This is the contemporary world mystery at its finest: an intricate and engaging page-turner that keeps one guessing at how the authors are going to pull it off." Kevin Carollo, Rain Taxi (read the entire Rain Taxi review)
Synopses & Reviews
In alternating chapters, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos and the consistently excellent Paco Ignacio Taibo II create an uproarious murder mystery with two intersecting story lines.
The chapters written by the famously masked Marcos originate in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. There, the fictional Subcomandante Marcos assigns Elias Contreras — an odd but charming mountain man — to travel to Mexico City in search of an elusive and hideous murderer named Morales.
The second story line, penned by Taibo, stars his famous series detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne. Hector guzzles Coca-Cola and smokes cigarettes furiously amidst his philosophical and always charming approach to investigating crimes — in this case, the search for his own Morales.
The two stories collide absurdly and dramatically in the urban sprawl of Mexico City. The ugly history of the city's political violence rears its head, and both detectives find themselves in an unpredictable dance of death with forces at once criminal, historical, and political.
"Mexican crime writer Taibo and a real-life spokesperson for the Zapatista movement, Subcomandante Marcos, provide alternating chapters for this postmodern comedic mystery about good, evil and modern revolutionary politics. Elas Contreras, a detective for the Zapatista National Liberation Army (and Marcos's creation), heads to Mexico City to investigate the case of a nefarious government-backed murderer named Morales. Taibo brings back one-eyed Mexico City detective Hctor Belascoarn Shayne (Return to the Same City, etc.), who becomes involved in the case when he learns of strange telephone messages about this same Morales. Taibo's expertise ensures a smart, funny book, and Marcos brings a wry sense of humor. The authors mix mystery with metafiction: characters operate from beyond the grave or chat about the roles they play in the novel, and Marcos writes his fictional self into the story. Literary readers will nod and smile knowingly, though serious mystery devotees who prefer more grounded noir might be mildly annoyed by the hijinks. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A lot of strange stories have been circulating about the elusive Osama bin Laden, but none stranger than one put forward by a character in the Mexican novel 'The Uncomfortable Dead.' This fellow insists that the bin Laden we see on television is not the Saudi millionaire and purported evildoer at all. The man we see is, rather, a tall, gaunt taco vendor named Juancho who made his way to Burbank, Calif.,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) where he stars in porn movies and also has been secretly hired by the Bush team to make 'bin Laden' tapes they feed to the media for their own dark purposes. Poor Juancho is so clueless that he thinks he's 'making commercials for turbans and field tents.' This theory — which clearly merits an FBI investigation — comes to us in a one-of-a-kind novel by veteran Mexican mystery writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos, who leads a Zapatista movement in the Chiapas region of southeastern Mexico. On this side of the border, Marcos is best known from newspaper photos that show him masked, armed and defiant, but his countrymen also know him as a sometime man of letters. For years, when he hasn't been dodging government troops, he has written books, some political and one a novel for children. We might have expected from these co-authors a fiery Marxist-Maoist manifesto, thinly disguised as fiction, but in fact the novel is more whimsical than political. The Zapatistas we meet are a dedicated but ragtag band of bumpkins who spend more time playing soccer and dominoes than striking blows against the empire. At best, the novel is a hoot, but at worst it's a mishmash of cornball humor and warmed-over revolutionary musings. The authors write alternating chapters. One plot concerns the efforts of a low-key, pipe-smoking rebel commander called El Sup by his followers — presumably Marcos' self-serving self-portrait — to find a man named Morales who for years has bedeviled the rebels as spy and assassin. However, El Sup stays in the background as he sends an aging, semiliterate follower called Elias Contreras ('that's what El Sup named me ... seeing as how I was so contrary') to Mexico City to search for the villain. The first person the old boy finds, however, is a male prostitute called Magdalena who turns tricks to finance a sex-change operation but is converted to the Zapatista cause. Later, Contreras encounters the one-eyed private-eye Hector Belascoaran Shayne, hero of Taibo's previous novels, who has his own mystery to solve. Belascoaran has a client who is receiving phone messages from a leftist friend who was killed by government agents more than 30 years earlier. The detective is seeking, with no great urgency, to learn the origin of these calls. The two plots merge when it becomes likely that it was the evasive Morales who murdered the leftist, who now may be speaking from the hereafter. If this summary suggests that the novel has a linear, logical nature, I have misled you. The mysteries of Morales and the phone calls vanish for long stretches as the authors digress on spiritual, social, cultural and political matters. The most interesting digression is the one on the taco vendor who makes bin Laden tapes, but there is another in which a Zapatista explains that Wal-Mart has opened a store in Mexico so it can steal the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, which will prevent some enlightened extraterrestrials from landing and saving southeastern Mexico from McDonald's, Pizza Huts, Wal-Marts and other capitalist oppressors. I don't know if these stories qualify as magic realism or are simply inspired by good old Mexican locoweed, but they do have a weird fascination. In other digressions, the authors make clear their admiration for Gustav Mahler and Glenn Miller, Veronica Lake and Angela Davis, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and gay rights and women's liberation. They quote the poems of Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca, and praise their countrymen Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and Benito Juarez, although their riff on Juarez ignores his heroic life and instead focuses on whether someone else is buried in his grave. When they turn to politics, the authors declare with passion that the rich and powerful own the world, that governments are corrupt and incompetent and that the little guy doesn't stand a chance — all true enough, but not exactly breaking news. Hemingway, Orwell, Chaplin and others have delivered the message far more effectively — which isn't to say it's not worth repeating. In time the plot wanders back into view, the source of the unworldly phone calls is revealed, and the vile Morales is dealt with, but the authors make clear that justice, in a larger sense, remains elusive. They express their outrage at Mexico's Dirty War, which, old Elias Contreras explains, 'means that it's secret, that they don't say it's on and they make like nothing's wrong, but it is and there's killing and disappearing and people displaced and a whole lot of misery for the screwed.' The authors are aware that a ragged band of rebels in a desolate corner of Mexico isn't likely to change the big picture, but Contreras can still declare proudly, 'Us Zapatistas won't give up and we won't sell out; what I mean is, we don't forget what we're fighting for, and that's why they need to defeat us any way they can.' On the evidence of this book, Subcomandante Marcos is no more successful a novelist than he is a revolutionary, but give him credit: He's out there, boots on the ground, pen in hand, doing his thing." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"As one might expect, the political trumps the personal in this curious mix of crime novel and position paper, but it is just strange enough to attract a cult audience." Booklist
"This lively crime noir presents a very sad picture of present-day Mexico. Recommended..." Library Journal
"Messy detective story with a sharp, self-important political agenda....A disjointed work." Kirkus Reviews
"It's one thing to write fiction informed by your own supple leftism. It's another to use the conventions of noir...in the service of a cut-and-dried worldview." New York Times
"[T]he novel is more whimsical than political....At best, the novel is a hoot, but at worst it's a mishmash of cornball humor and warmed-over revolutionary musings." Washington Post
"What does The Uncomfortable Dead prove? Only that the endeavor was idle from the start. Is there a message it advances? Not that I can discern..." San Francisco Chronicle
"The novel careens from slapstick to sentimental to thoughtful and back again, often in the same sentence....On its face, the novel is a murder mystery, and at the book's heart, always, is a deep love of Mexico and its people." Los Angeles Times
"Original, funny, biting, and sincere, The Uncomfortable Dead is Huckleberry Finn by Thomas Pynchon." Tim McLoughlin, editor of Brooklyn Noir
"This isn't your ordinary left-wing noir satire co-written by Mexico's most famous crime novelist and the world's best-known revolutionary leader — it's a singular event in world literature." Neal Pollack, author of Never Mind the Pollacks
"It doesn't get much more delicious than this: the mythic, surreal Subcomandante Marcos and the wonderfully ironic Paco Taibo playing duet on a most unexpected story — a noir! But their collaboration is not just any noir — this one's tender, funny, sly political, smart, and just plain fun!" Achy Obejas, author of Days of Awe
The highly anticipated surreal noir collaboration between Mexico's greatest writer and its most courageous revolutionary.
In alternating chapters, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos and the consistently excellent Paco Ignacio Taibo II create an uproarious murder mystery with two intersecting storylines.
The chapters written by the famously masked Marcos originate in the mountains of
The second story line, penned by Taibo, stars his famous series detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne. Hector guzzles Coca-Cola and smokes cigarettes furiously amidst his philosophical and always charming approach to investigating crimes-in this case, the search for his own "Morales."
The two stories collide absurdly and dramatically in the urban sprawl of
Subcomandante Marcosis a spokesperson and strategist for the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgency movement based in
Paco Ignacio Taibo II was born in
About the Author
Subcomandante Marcos is a spokesperson and strategist for the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgency movement based in Mexico. He first joined the guerrilla group which was to become the Zapatistas in the early 1980s. Marcos is author of several books translated into English, including the award-winning children's book Story of the Colors (Cinco Puntos) and Our Word Is Our Weapon (Seven Stories Press).
Paco Ignacio Taibo II was born in Gijon, Spain and has lived in Mexico since 1958. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, which have been published in many languages around the world, including a mystery series starring Mexican Private Investigator Hector Belascoaran Shayne (a protagonist in this book as well). He is a professor of history at the Metropolitan University of Mexico City. He has won various literary prizes, including the National History Award from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.
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