A Man of His Village by Tanyo Ravicz
a personal book review by Anne Ku
Is this a true story? Or is it based on a true story?
I have visited Mexico three times, including an escape from crowded and polluted Mexico City via Puebla to lovely Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ka) which so happens to be the home of Florentino Cruz, the hero of this book. In the first line of chapter one, "....a couple of Oaxacans...." I was quickly led back to the main square of that village where my friend Jackie and I, tipsy from sangria, invited the wide-eyed, impoverished children to feast at our lunch table. To remember Oaxaca, I had bought several zapateca rugs which now hang proudly in my piano room.
Anyone who has left his home to seek better fortune elsewhere will understand Florentino's challenges in the story. Why leave your home town if it's comfortable and has all that you need and want, including the woman you love? Only the desperate, the brave, the ambitious would leave all that is warm and fuzzy.
To embrace the unknown, to be hurled out of your comfort zone, and to resist the temptation of giving up and returning in shame ---- these are only some of the challenges. In a foreign land, you are easily stereotyped and misunderstood. Mistreated, if unlucky. Wronged, if very unlucky. Homesickness prevails. Like Orpheus, you will always want to look back but something forces you to keep moving ahead.
Florentino took upon himself the economic responsibility for his family and vowed not to look back until he succeeded. The story weaves between the present and the past, with momentum building to a climax in the final Alaskan adventure. Now, I've never been to Alaska but I've definitely been bitten by mosquitoes. Here, in his final adventure, I could feel the intensity of the mosquitoes, the humidity, the raging desperation, and the evolution of greed and obsession. If you read this book, you have to get to the end. Till then, you will not know how Flrentino becomes a man of his village.
Having read the last few books by female authors, I was pleasantly surprised by Ravicz's colourful use of action words, clearly man-speak. As a woman, I cannot imagine the physical brutality though I could more easily recognise the psychological hardship on immigrants, especially illegal ones with no status at all.
Once I got to the end, I realised that the hero of the book is not the author. Why not? Read for yourself.
9 January 2007