Ambrose Bierce was a famous American writer who in real life disappeared around the time of the Mexican Revolution. In this novel, he goes as an old man to Mexico, with his ultimate goal of dying there. ("To be a gringo in Mexico, ah, that is euthanasia," he says.) Although he has his writer's credential, he seeks out a revolutionists' encampment in Chihuahua in order to join the army, rather than just reporting the story, like other Americans who went to Mexico at the same time. He agrees to fight for Tomas Arroyo (the antagonist in this book), who was raised as a peon on a Mexican hacienda. Arroyo has papers in his possession - which he cannot read, being illiterate - that prove to him that centuries earlier the King of Spain had actually given the land to his people and not the rich family that's controlled it for so many years. Arroyo leads his ragtag soldiers to the Miranda hacienda. The hacienda owner and his family have fled, leaving behind Harriet Winslow, a tutor hired to teach the owner's children.
This story is in part about politics and revolution. But it is also about the relationships that develop between Bierce, Arroyo, and Winston. Winston and Arroyo have a torrid relationship. (There are a couple of graphic descriptions of their sex.) At the same time, Bierce falls in love with Winston who in turn comes to love him as a father.
This book is sometimes very hard to follow but the relationships in it are interesting and Fuentes lets you understand the Mexican Revolution in a way history books cannot.
This report prepared by Ann Gaines