Jul 042019
 

Confesiones de Maclovia, Martín Casillas de Alba‘s first novel, was inspired by the life of his grandmother who lived much of her adult life in Chapala, including several years in the Hotel Nido, prior to her death in October 1933.

Some seventy years later, the novel’s author-narrator travels to Chapala in the hopes of unraveling more about the life of his long-departed grandmother. In the process he uncovers a cache of documents in a storage room at the Hotel Nido. It includes three notebooks recording the details of an extended series of interviews Maclovia (“Cova”) had given to Juan Bautista (who was planning to write a book about her) in the period February-September 1933, her last months before he accompanied her to Mexico City where she died. The majority of the novel is based on these fictional notebooks.

There are many poignant descriptions of Chapala as it used to be, and of significant events in Cova’s life. Cova, born in Tapalpa in 1859, grew up in a distinguished Guadalajara family, the Cañedos, and flitted between the family’s town house in the center of Guadalajara and their hacienda, the Hacienda El Cabezón, near Ameca.

At the time Cova was growing up in Guadalajara the city was developing a vibrant cultural scene. Among the leaders of the artistic and literary circles in which Cova moved was Brazilian violinist and painter Felix Bernadelli (1862-1908). Prior to the Mexican Revolution, with Bernardelli leading the way, Guadalajara was Mexico’s artistic frontier, significantly ahead of Mexico City in terms of experimentation and creativity, leading contemporary Mexican writer and diplomat Eduardo Gibbon to christen the city the “Florence of Mexico”.

Other members of the intellectual and artist elite in Guadalajara at the time included Gerardo Murillo (better known as Dr. Atl), Roberto Montenegro, Luis de la Torre, Jorge Enciso, Rafael Ponce de León and José María Lupercio, who became one of Mexico’s best-known photographers.

Poet José Juan Tablada visited Guadalajara in 1894. He stayed initially at the Hotel Francés before being invited to stay at the home of Rafael de Alba, a brother of Guillermo de Alba (who later married Cova). When Cova first met Tablada, she was struck by his eccentricity. Tablada, for his part, was awe struck by her beauty. (Tablada, incidentally, returned many times to Jalisco and some years later, in 1914, lamented the ruination of Chapala in an opinion piece in El Mundo Ilustrado.)

Guillermo de Alba, short, slim and mustachioed, had also been captivated by Cova’s beauty. When he moved to Chicago to advance his knowledge of architecture under the leading lights of the Chicago School, such as Frank Sullivan, he began a lengthy correspondence with Cova. By the time he returned to Mexico in about 1897, he had already proposed marriage to her, and she had accepted.

The timeline in the novel at this point appears to conflict with the known historical time frame for when de Alba designed and built the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala. The hotel opened in 1898; it was therefore presumably designed and built no later than 1896-1897. Casillas’ fictional version has de Alba still living in Chicago in 1897. In the novel, Cova recalls how she had finally said “yes” in 1899, and that, at that time, Guillermo “still had to return to Chicago to complete his career.”

Guillermo and Cova married in Chapala on 27 January 1900; she was 40 years old at the time, he was 25. The couple’s only daughter, Guillermina {“Mina”} de Alba y Cañedo (Martín Casillas’ mother), was born in Guadalajara on 9 January 1902.

Guillermo and Cova were married for more than thirty years. Guillermo built a modest but architecturally stunning family home, Mi Pullman, in the heart of Chapala. The housewarming was held in 1906. The building, lovingly and faithfully restored a century later by an English owner, remains an important part of the town’s cultural heritage. (The story of the restoration is told in detail on MexConnect.com).

Guillermo’s final building project was his crowning achievement as an architect. The imposing, impressive Chapala Railroad Station (now the Centro Cultural González Gallo) opened in 1920 but proved to be Guillermo’s downfall. His debts were mounting and his sources of income were drying up.

Guillermo and Cova lived their final decade far apart: Guillermo sold the family home in Chapala in 1924 and moved to Mexico City in 1926 leaving Cova and their daughter in Chapala. Cova tried to make ends meet by turning Villa Guillermina, the family’s Guadalajara residence, into a boarding house but ended up living the final years of her life in the Hotel Nido. She died in Mexico City (where she had gone to seek medical treatment) in 1933, only a few months after her daughter, Mina, had married José Luis Casillas y Cruz in Chapala.

Confesiones de Maclovia is a fascinating read on several levels. It includes some noteworthy descriptive passages relating to life in Chapala at the start of the 20th century. The novel’s exploration of the possible motives behind the slow breakdown of their relationship, Cova’s withdrawal from her previously active social life towards an almost reclusive existence in the Hotel Nido, and of the reasons why Guillermo de Alba fled for Mexico City, are all especially interesting and thought-provoking. They hold messages that are timeless and all too often ignored.

Sources

  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1994. La Villa de Chapala (1895-1933). Mexico City: Banca Promex; Martín Casillas de Alba, 2004. ¡Salvemos a Chapala! Mexico City: Editorial Diana.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 1995. Confesiones de Maclovia. Mexico City: Ediciones del Equilibrista.
  • Martín Casillas de Alba. 2002. Las batallas del general. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta.
  • José Juan Tablada. 1914. “La ruina de Chapala”. El Mundo Ilustrado, 8 March 1914, 6.

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Jun 062019
 

Juan Pablo Guzmán, a renowned Guadalajara physician, wrote several books, including a novel – El gran Chapa – set at Lake Chapala. We will take a closer look at the novel, which won the inaugural Premio Jalisco for literature in 1950, and offers valuable insights into lakeside communities and culture, in a separate post.

In this post, we consider the life and work of its author, Juan Pablo Guzmán.

Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán was born in Guadalajara on 26 June 1909. His father died when Juan Pablo was still in his teens. At the time of the 1930 census, Juan Pablo’s mother, María Jesús Alemán viuda de Guzman, was head of a large household which included four children older than Juan Pablo (then almost 19 years of age) and three younger children.

The previous year, having just entered university to study medicine, Juan Pablo had won a statewide oratory competition, held in the Degollado Theater in Guadalajara, before going to on place second in a national competition in Mexico City. His younger brother, Victor, who also became a doctor, accompanied him on his trip to the capital.

Juan Pablo had completed his medical training and was practicing in Guadalajara when, at the age of 31, he married María Dolores Serratos on 29 October 1940. The couple’s son, Juan Bernardo Guzmán Serratos, born in 1945, also entered the medical profession, training as a medical surgeon and odontologist (forensic dentist) and teaching at the University of Guadalajara.

Juan Pablo Guzmán was a multi-talented individual who combined his professional life as a gynecologist with active involvement in the arts as a poet, musician, painter, writer and dramatist. He published three books, the first of which – El gran Chapa, was set at Lake Chapala.

Cover-Llaga viva

His second novel, a decade later was Llaga viva (“Open Sore”). It also won a Premio Jalisco. Guzmán’s third book, Tres voces en tres cuentos, was published in 1997.

The two early novels are extremely difficult to find though copies are held by several U.S. university libraries and the Biblioteca Pública del Estado de Jalisco Juan José Arreola in Guadalajara.

When Llaga viva was published, in 1961, Winston Allin Reynolds, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California at Santa Barbara, supplied the introduction. The 181-page novel was enthusiastically reviewed by Dr. Alfonso Manuel Castañeda in El Informador who praised the author’s “penetrating and scrupulous observation of people”.

Castañeda described the succession of everyday characters that populates the pages of Llaga Viva as “pilgrims without a destination and migrants without a direction in the constant wanderings of life.”

For a sense of the style of Llaga Viva, here is a loose translation of a short passage lamenting the fact that it has become money not knowledge that establishes a person’s position in society:

“In the city you learn the urgency of money; the main thing in choosing a profession is to work out which one can most easily bring you wealth. People with experience, and all of society, had constantly yelled at him: Gold! It takes gold for you to live among us! It’s no use if you stuff your head with books while your pockets are empty. The old days, when a man was considered a man on account of his knowledge and virtue, have passed. Do you have the gold? With that you will buy a place in society; you will buy the sensuality of all women; you will buy valuable friends; you will buy the glories that cultured citizens pursue; you will buy life….”

A sentiment that is surely even more true today than it was in the 1950s.

Source

  • Alfonso Manuel Castañeda. 1961. “Llaga Viva.” El Informador, 24 September 1961, 14.
  • Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. 1951. El gran Chapa. Guadalajara: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco.
  • Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. 1961. Llaga viva. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara.
  • Juan Pablo Guzmán Alemán. 1997. Tres voces en tres cuentos. Guadalajara: Secretaría de Cultura, Gobierno de Jalisco.
  • El Informador, 25 May 1929, 6; 20 June 1929, 6.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Feb 212019
 

Alice Janice (“Jan”) Dunlap, who lived in Ajijic from 1967-1998, was born on 15 June 1927 in Addison, Texas, and died in Los Angeles, California, on 19 October 2018. Jan was one of eleven children born to Clinton Adolphus Dunlap and his wife Janice Blackburn and was suitably thrilled later in life when she discovered that she was a descendant of an aide to U.S. President George Washington.

Jan studied to be sociologist and was a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She had a son, Michael, from her first marriage (when only a teenager), and four children with Ramón Rivas Jr. from her third marriage. She met Rivas, from Puerto Rico, when both were studying at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas in the early 1950s. The couple lived for a decade in Puerto Rico, where on one occasion Jan met Fidel Castro.

Later, when Jan was studying at the University of Texas at El Paso, she met and married artist Wesley Penn. Penn had friends who lived at Lake Chapala and suggested that they live in Mexico. Jan quickly agreed when she learned that Mexico wanted more English teachers ahead of hosting the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

The couple decamped to Ajijic, with Jan’s four children. Tragically, Penn was killed in 1970 when the car he was driving was hit by a bus on the Chapala-Guadalajara highway. Jan and her children remained in Ajijic where she became one of the village’s more colorful and warm-hearted characters of the 1970s and 1980s. Jan felt as though nobody was a stranger and believed that anyone in need was worthy of help and assistance.

Known to everyone in Ajijic as “Big Mama”, Jan ran a succession of restaurant-bars, boutiques and galleries, including El Tejabán, the Blackfoot Contessa Boutique, the Wes Penn Gallery, Big Mama’s (on 16 de Septiembre) and El Tapanco. Jan was especially proud of having arranged an exhibit of Ruth Anaya paintings in El Tejabán that got the gallery (and Ajijic) listed in Who’s Who in American Art. Jan was the “Grand Dame” of the “Rowdy Bunch” which contributed its positive energy to many Ajijic events.

Declining health forced Jan and her husband, Michael Shapiro, to move back to the States in 1998. Shortly afterwards, Jan founded Grandmothers Against Smoking, a campaign to help persuade young people not to smoke.

Jan finally realized one of her long-term dreams in 2017 when she published, shortly after her 90th birthday (and with a little help from me) her debut novel, Dilemma, an exciting tale about a drug-dealing cartel capo and a beautiful, youthful female DEA agent. The novel is loosely based on Ajijic gossip and her personal experiences in Mexico.

The novel, set mainly at Lake Chapala in Mexico, takes us back to the 1970s. Natalie, a beautiful young DEA agent, is sent to investigate an alleged king-pin in the drugs world who lives in Ajijic. Her life soon becomes far more complicated than she bargained for. The positive reviews on Amazon for this tale of international romance, drugs and intrigue speak for themselves.

The striking artwork used for the cover is by B.C.-based artist Oliver Rivas, one of Jan’s grandsons.

Jan also completed several other works including a novel entitled With Money Dances the Dog, and associated screenplay, based on an infamous series of murders in Ajijic in the mid-1970s.

Jan was predeceased by two of her five children: Janina Rivas died in Mexico following a dog bite in 1973; Ricardo Rivas died in 2015. She leaves behind her husband, Michael, and three sons – Michael, Ramón and Roberto – as well as many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

Sources

  • Big Spring Daily Herald, Big Spring, Texas: 13 February 1935, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 Dec 1975; 17 Jan 1976; 31 Jan 1976; 28 Feb 1976; 10 Sep 1977, 19; 15 Oct 1983.
  • Henrietta Clay County Leader, Henrietta, Texas: 11 June 1970.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in this series of mini-bios are welcome. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jun 072018
 

In the 1940s, two superbly written books introduced readers in the U.S. and U.K. to life in the village of Ajijic. Both have remained perennial favorites on the must-read lists of anyone interested in Lake Chapala. Village in the Sun and House in the Sun were both written by “Dane Chandos”, who later wrote several travel books.

Dane Chandos was not a real person but a pen name of two distinct writing duos. Peter Lilley and Stansbury (later Nigel) Millett wrote the early Dane Chandos books. After Millett’s death, Lilley’s partner for later Dane Chandos works was Anthony Stansfeld. All three men were well-educated Englishmen with an excellent ear for languages.

Stansbury Girtin Millett was born in London, England, on 23 October 1904.. .

Owing to the unauthorized and uncredited use of material from this post on a third-party website, this article has been removed from public view.

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Cover artist

The cover art has a tiny signature (below). If anyone knows who this cover artist is, or anything more about them, please get in touch!

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

Signature of cover artist, Village in the Sun.

References

  • Dane Chandos. 1945. Village in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Published in London, U.K., with same title by Michael Joseph in 1948. Reissued in London by Country Book Club in 1953. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1998.
  • Dane Chandos. 1949. House in the Sun. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. U.K. edition in 1950 by Michael Joseph. Reissued in Mexico (Tlayacapan Press) in 1999.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 182017
 

Sombrero Books is pleased to announce that Jan Dunlap’s debut novel – Dilemma – is now available for Kindle readers at the very attractive price of US$2.90. The regular print version (real books are nice!) will be published early next month, well in time for those Christmas gifts!

In her exciting debut novel, Dilemma, Jan Dunlap weaves a page-turning tale of international romance, drugs and intrigue, loosely based on events and characters from her past.

The novel, set mainly at Lake Chapala in Mexico, takes us back to the 1970s. Natalie, a beautiful young DEA agent, is sent to investigate an alleged king-pin in the drugs world who lives in Ajijic. Her life soon becomes far more complicated than she bargained for.

Jan Dunlap, the author, was born and raised in small-town Texas and has a formal background in sociology.

She spent ten years in Puerto Rico – where she met Fidel Castro – and more than twenty years in Mexico, where she owned a restaurant-art gallery and bar. Completely bilingual, Jan has always loved to write and has completed several novels and screenplays.

The cover artwork is by Oliver Rivas, one of the author’s grandsons.

The Kindle edition of Dilemma can be purchased on all Amazon sites, including:

After reading the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads or similar site.

The print version will be released in early November.

Enjoy!

May 222017
 

Rubén M. Campos‘s novel Claudio Oronoz includes dozens of pages relating to Lake Chapala. The lake is not only described (in all its glory) but also provides the setting for some memorable discussions between the main characters.

Campos utilizes Lake Chapala as a kind of antidote for, or counterbalance to, life in Mexico City. This is perfectly fitting, especially given the fact that the novel was written at the start of the twentieth century, precisely the time when many of the wealthier businessmen and residents of Mexico City established close ties to Lake Chapala, often setting up second homes there.

The protagonist of this novel is a young man, Claudio Oronoz, who considers himself an artist. (His poems appear at intervals in the novel). At the age of twenty-one, Claudio evades the obligations and responsibilities foisted on him by his family, who want him to enter business, turns his back on materialism, and heads for the capital city in search of like-minded bohemian individuals with whom he can share his thoughts, feelings and concerns. Thus begins his “odyssey of pleasure”, which subsequently involves trips to the theater, dinners, “parties and orgies”.

To quote Claudio: “I had imagined a distinct area for dreamers, for thinkers, a special neighborhood for musicians, painters, sculptors, poets …” He hoped to find “that blissful neighborhood which this Latin-American metropolis, like Paris, must have” but becomes increasingly disillusioned as he finds instead “the roar of the struggle for life in workshops, in factories, in warehouses, in the daily traffic of the streets, in the haste of passers-by.”

Eventually, Claudio does succeed in locating the “bohemian neighborhood and the fierce artists” he had dreamed of, and shares friendship and experiences with other young artists. But Claudio has a serious illness (consumption or tuberculosis) which is gradually sapping his energies. He is torn between a tendency to hedonistic debauchery and reveling in the pure love that he feels for Clara Rionda, the woman who cared for him during one of his serious relapses.

Two of Claudio’s other friends share Clara’s home with him: José Abreu, the narrator of the novel, and his lover Ana Belmar, Clara’s best friend, who was born in Jamay on the shores of Lake Chapala.

After some time enjoying themselves in Mexico City, the group decides to escape the city and go to Lake Chapala. (They return to the city for the final section of the book).

The trip to the lake via train from Mexico City to Ocotlán, and then by lake steam boat (vaporcito) from Ocotlán to Chapala is described at some length, and the text includes many details about the village of Chapala. For instance, the group stays on the second floor of a lakefront hotel: this is a clear reference to the historic Arzapalo hotel that first opened in 1898. The group arrived in early April, apparently well before Easter that particular year, since they are described as being among the first visitors that spring. Even the chalets (with verandas) that characterized the second homes of the wealthy in Chapala at that time are described.

These descriptive details owe nothing to coincidence or chance. As Dulce Diana Aguirre López has shown, the main section of the book about Chapala is based on a straightforward, narrative account that Campos had originally published many years previously, as “En el Chapala”. This was actually published twice – first in La Patria (1899) and then, with some variations, in Revista Moderna (1902) – before being suitably modified for the section in Claudio Oronoz: an interesting example of how a regular narrative or travel piece can be recycled as an integral part of a fictional work.

Claudio Oronoz is considered to be Campos’s master work in fiction. Campos’s portrayal of youthful artistic and intellectual ambitions which ultimately lead his protagonist to disillusionment helped move Mexican novels away from the realism of the end of the 19th century into new, emerging “modern” territory. Mexican literature would never be the same; later Mexican writers would never look back.

Notes :

  • All quotations are loose translations by the author of this post.
  • The text of the original novel is included in the thesis (downloadable as a pdf file) linked to below.

Sources

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Apr 032017
 

Author Martin M. Goldsmith was born 6 November 1913 in New York City and died in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, at the age of 80, on 24 May 1994. He wrote several acclaimed screenplays, including Detour (1945), adapted from his 1939 novel of the same name; Blind Spot (1947); and The Narrow Margin (1952) which earned him an Academy Award nomination.

He and his wife – Estela Quinn-Oaxaca (sometimes known as Stella), the younger sister of movie star Anthony Quinn – lived in Ajijic for a short time in the mid-1960s, while he was working on scripts for the TV series The Twilight Zone (1964).

Goldsmith, born and raised in New York City, left school at the age of 15 and spent several months hitchhiking and hopping freight trains across the U.S. By his early twenties, Goldsmith was selling the occasional story to magazines, and had moved to Mexico, where he wrote his first book, a crime novel entitled Double Jeopardy, published in 1938. By this time he was back in New York and about to move to Hollywood.

Once in the film mecca, Goldsmith took a job as a stage hand to get a close-up look at how movies were made. He completed his second novel, Detour, which was published in 1939. In 1944 Goldsmith sold the film rights to the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), with the proviso that he write the screenplay. Using Goldsmith’s meticulously detailed screenplay which included lighting and camera angles, director Edgar G. Ulmer was able to shoot the entire movie in less than a week. The 1945 movie is now recognized as a film noir classic and was added to the National Film Registry in 1992.

Thereafter, Goldsmith and his wife seldom lived in any one place for very long, preferring an itinerant life to staying in the Hollywood limelight.

For a time, the couple returned to Mexico. His screenplay The Lone Wolf in Mexico (1947) is about a good-natured jewel thief, while a coastal fishing village became the setting for his well-received comic novel The Miraculous Fish of Domingo Gonzales (1950). The Kirkus Review compared “this light, satiric, fanciful fable of the coming of civilization (from America) to Puerto Miguel (Mexico)” favorably to Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, concluding that it was “a pleasantly entertaining chronicle of the doubtful benefits of today’s advancements”, with “a bubbling sense of local character and event”. The novel is set in a small, sleepy fishing village which is “developed” (and in danger of being corrupted) when an American buyer of shark livers comes to town to do business with laid-back, deadbeat shark fisherman Domingo Gonzales.

Both Martin and Estela had pilots’ licenses, and whenever they had the funds and the opportunity, they would travel. They lived in numerous different countries, leading to significant gaps between Goldsmith’s credits. From the mid-1960s on, Goldsmith and his wife spent more time traveling than writing.

In 1964, we learn from Anita Lomax, writing in the Guadalajara Reporter, that “noted Hollywood writer Martin Goldsmith and his wife Estelita (a sister of Anthony Quinn) who flew here in their Piper Comache … are staying a while with us in Ajijic at Casita Mas o Menos”. Three years later, Lomax reported that another Hollywood couple, Abner and Sybille Bidderman, who had first heard about Ajijic from the Goldsmiths, were visiting Ajijic.

Martin Goldsmith wrote more than a dozen screenplays, including Dangerous Intruder (1945); Detour (1945); The Lone Wolf in Mexico (1947); Blind Spot (1947); Shakedown (1950); The Narrow Margin (1952); Mission Over Korea (1953); Overland Pacific (1954); Hell’s Island (1955); Fort Massacre (1958); The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959); Cast a Long Shadow (1959); Point of Impact (1959); What’s in the Box (1964); The Encounter (1964); Narrow Margin (1990).

His TV scripts included episodes of Playhouse 90 (1958); Natchez (1958); Goodyear Theatre (1959) and The Twilight Zone (1964).

Goldsmith’s books included Double Jeopardy (1938); Detour: an extraordinary tale (first published in 1939); Shadows at Noon (1943), a fictional account of an enemy attack on Manhattan; and the comic novel The Miraculous Fish of Domingo Gonzales (1950). He also wrote Night Shift, a stage play which ran for 24 performances at the Labor Theater in New York in the fall of 1977, and an autobiography which was never published.

According to Richard Doody, when Goldsmith’s publisher asked him what to tell his readers about his life, “the author replied that it was enough to say that he was there yesterday, here today and “… God knows where I’ll be tomorrow.””

After a prolonged period of declining health, Martin M. Goldsmith died on May 24, 1994.

Sources:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Feb 202017
 

Novelist Ramón Rubín (1912-2000) lived much of his life in Jalisco and was a staunch defender of Lake Chapala.

The hydrology of Lake Chapala is discussed in more detail in chapters 6 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

Owing to the unauthorized and uncredited use of material from this post on a third-party website, this article has been removed from public view.

If you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, please contact us via the comments section and we can discuss terms and conditions.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Feb 132017
 

Mexican author Ramón Rubín Rivas (1912-2000) wrote a novel set at Lake Chapala: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza. He wrote more than a dozen novels and some 500 short stories over a lengthy career and this work, first published in 1951, is considered one of his finest, though it has never been translated into English.

Rubín was a particularly keen observer of the way of life, customs and beliefs of Mexico’s many indigenous groups. His writing is based on extensive travels throughout the country and prolonged periods of residence with several distinct indigenous groups including the Cora/Huichol in Nayarit and Jalisco, the Tarahumara (raramuri) in the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua, and the Tzotzil in Chiapas. His novel about Lake Chapala, which we will look at in more detail in a future post, is the story of an indigenous fisherman who wants to acquire a canoe, set against the background of a lake facing serious problems. During the 1950s, Rubín was an ardent campaigner for the protection of the lake when drought and overuse threatened its very existence.

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

Rubin Ramon. Credit: Archivo-CNL-INBA

The early history of Rubín’s life is hazy. His “official” biography states that he was born to Spanish immigrant parents in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on 11 June 1912, and that the family moved to Spain when Rubín was two years old. However, some researchers have found evidence suggesting that he was actually born on that date in San Vicente de la Barquera in northern Spain, and subsequently “adopted” Mazatlán as his birthplace as he became known as a Mexican writer. Rubín would apparently respond to questions about his birthplace by saying that his only source of information had been his parents, and they had said he was born in Mazatlán. The lack of a Mexican birth certificate is not surprising given that the public records in many parts of Mexico were destroyed during the early years of the Mexican Revolution, which erupted in 1910.

Wherever he was born, Rubín attended school in Spain until 1929 when, at the age of sixteen, he relocated to Mazatlán in Mexico. It was while taking typing classes in Mazatlán (as a means of earning a living) that he wrote his first stories, allegedly because he was sitting too far from the blackboard to copy what the teacher wrote as practice exercises. The teacher agreed that he could write whatever he wanted, provided there were no typing errors, and Rubín’s literary career was under way.

Working as a salesperson, Rubín traveled widely in Mexico. When he settled for a time in Mexico City, he had several short stories, based on his travels and experiences, published in Revista de Revistas. He later became a regular contributor to newspapers, especially to El Informador and El Occidental. Rubín’s direct approach to narrating stories owes much to his childhood, when he was entranced by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and by the adventure novels of Emilio Salgari.

In the Spanish Civil War (1938), Rubín enlisted as a merchant seaman on the side of the Republicans. While not formally a member of the International Brigades, he took a cargo of arms and ammunition to Spain and was lucky to escape alive. Franco’s forces dropped 72 bombs on his ship, none of which hit their intended target.

Rubín enjoyed a measure of literary success in 1942 with the publication of the first of an eventual five volumes of short stories, all entitled Cuentos mestizos (“Mestizo tales”). Later short story collections include Diez burbujas en el mar, sarta de cuentos salobres (1949), two volumes of Cuentos de indios (1954 y 1958), Los rezagados (1983), Navegantes sin ruta: relatos de mar y puerto (1983) and Cuentos de la ciudad (1991).

Rubín had traveled to Chiapas for the first time and lived among the Tzotzil in 1938. He put this knowledge to good use in his first novel, El callado dolor de los tzotziles {“The silent pain of the Tzotzil”) (1949). Literary critics consider this to be a seminal portrayal of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. The novel goes far beyond mere description or adulation of indigenous lifestyles and is a genuine drama about the intolerance of an indigenous community towards a couple who are unable to have children. In line with tribal tradition, the woman is banished to the mountains, the man leaves the community to live for a time among the mestizos. When he returns, his mental state altered by his experiences, he spirals downwards and seeks refuge in alcohol.

In a later indigenous novel, entitled La bruma lo vuelve azul (“The smoke turns blue”) (1954), the main character is a Huichol Indian named Kanayame who is rejected by his father, stripped of his indigenous roots in a government school, and turns to banditry. Rubín’s other indigenous novels include El canto de la grilla (1952), La sombra del techincuagüe (1955) and Cuando el táguaro agoniza (1960).

In addition, Rubín wrote the novels La loca (1949), La canoa perdida (1951), El seno de la esperanza (1960) and Donde mi sombra se espanta (1964). Some of his work has been translated (into English, German French, Russian and Italian) and several stories have been adapted for the stage. Rubín also wrote a short autobiography – Rubinescas – and several screenplays, none of which was ever made into a film, though Hugo Argüelles’s 1965 film Los cuervos están de luto is a plagarized version of Rubín’s original story “El duelo”.

Given that Rubín’s books have a wide appeal – cited as valuable sources of information about people and landscapes by anthropologists, biologists, sociologists and geographers – and were acclaimed by famous contemporaries, including his good friend Juan Rulfo, and literary historians, including Emmanuel Carballo who saw fit to include him in his Protagonistas de la literatura mexicana – why is it that Rubín is not much better known?

First, many of his books had small print runs, and were often self-financed, not the work of major publishers. Many of his books are, therefore, very difficult to find.

Second, Rubín was very much an individualist and neither living in Mexico City nor a member of any mainstream literary group.

Third, according to the author himself, his public disagreements with another famous Jalisco novelist, Agustín Yáñez, who served as Governor of Jalisco during the crisis affecting Lake Chapala in the 1950s, led to him being denied support by any of Yáñez’s numerous friends. Rubín was a vigorous opponent, on ecological grounds, of many of the “development” (drainage) schemes proposed during Yáñez’s administration.

Indeed, when he was chosen as the recipient of the Jalisco Prize in 1954, he declined to accept it on both intellectual and moral grounds, not wanting anything to do with the Yáñez administration which he believed had failed to do enough to protect Lake Chapala. (He was eventually awarded the Prize in 1997).

Rubín was proud of the fact that his work was based on travel and first-hand research, and did not derive from library sources or from his imagination while sitting at his desk. His writing shows that action and plot are more important to him than relaying introspective thoughts or feelings. However, he disliked the suggestion, sometimes made by literary critics, that he was Mexico’s Hemingway.

Rubín lived the bulk of his creative years (1940-1970) in Guadalajara. He taught at the University of Guadalajara and owned two small shoe manufacturing companies in Jalisco, both of which he eventually gave to his employees. In the early 1970s, he spent three years in Autlán, in the southern part of the state, before moving to San Miguel Cuyutlán, near Tlajomulco, for a decade. He then lived in a seniors’ home in Guadalajara for two years. Notwithstanding the many websites that claim he died the year before, Ramón Rubín Rivas died in Guadalajara on 25 May 2000.

Rubín did not win as many awards as might be expected from the quality and originality of his work, but he was awarded the Sinaloa Prize for Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the Jalisco Literary Prize in 1997. Prior to either of those awards, he had been recognized in the U.S. by the award from the New Mexico Book Association in 1994 of their “Premio de las Americas”, as the writer “whose work best exemplifies the common humanity of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere” – a truly fitting tribute to this man of the people.

Sources:

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Dec 122016
 

In my on-going quest to document the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala, I occasionally come across individuals about whom very little is known. In most cases, diligent research eventually unearths a few savory tidbits, even if I sometimes still lack sufficient material to compile a formal biography.

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Salomón Zepeda is an exception. I have found absolutely nothing about this writer, beyond the fact that he is the author of La Ondina de Chapala (“The Water Nymph of Chapala”), a 149-page Spanish-language novel published in 1951 by Imprenta Ruíz in Mexico City. The cover art appears to be by “Magallón”.

I know there are a small number of copies in libraries in the U.S., including one in the “Southern Regional Library Facility” of the University of California Los Angeles. If you have a copy, or access to a copy, or know anything about this author, please get in touch!

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 132016
 

A significant section of Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina? is set at Lake Chapala, where Young spent some time in the mid- to late-1960s…

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