I teach sophomore and junior English at a public high school in California. During the first fifteen minutes of each class, my students engage in SSR (silent sustained reading), and I model reading for them by not grading papers during this time, but by reading a book of my own choice. In this case, however, the choice was that of my wife, who read the book as a secondary student in Jalisco, Mexico. Every day in every class I looked forward to reading The Underdogs during SSR. It's a fast read and provides a spring board into the historical context of which it speaks. This book has made me a student of the Mexican Revolution.
The main character, Demetrio Macias, and his band of revolutionaries at once attract and repulse you until, at the novel's end, the reader understands how bitterly disillusioned Azuela had become with the likes of the generals and foot soldiers who turned their noble cause into a pretext for their own personal gain. Thus, the revolution implodes upon the idealists who gave her birth and, in the end, the generals and foot soldiers of the revolution become comsumed by the same base impulses that once fueled their enemies.
The dialogue, of which there is plenty, burns through the storyline like a prairie fire, so real, so vibrant, and so poetic is it. The narrative draws the reader along seamlessly, and the numerous descriptions of nature dazzle his mind's eye like an apocalyptic vision.
In my opinion, a good novel engages me in the lives of its characters. Demetrio, Manteca, Luis Cervantes, Camilla, War Paint, et al. remain vivdly in my mind as victims of injustice, heroes of liberty, and perpetrators of pointless mayhem.
I fell so much in love with Azuela's style and his masterful use of imagery that I ordered the Spanish language version Los de Abajo! I can't wait to read this novel in the original Spanish. I can't wait to unleash its volcanic energy upon my students.
My favorite line? That of the mad poet Valderrama, who proclaims after the defeat of General Villa at Celaya, "Villa? Obregon? Carranza? What's the difference? I love the revolution like a volcano in eruption; I love the volcano because it's a volcano, the revolution because it's the revolution! What do I care about the stones left above or below after the cataclysm? What are they to me?"
Every gabacho should read this book!