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The Dark Side Of The Dream
By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez,
Arte Publico Press
434 pages $11.95 US
Reviewed by ROB MOHR
(Initially published in The Guadalajara Reporter—Dec. 18, 2010)
The Dark Side of the Dream, an intriguing and richly textured novel by Lakeside author Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez, places the reader within a complex and often heart-breaking world where the realities of Mexican and North American cultures play out with a clarity that renders futile the stereotyped understanding that now dominate border politics. With great skill and a deep understanding of Mexican-American life, Grattan weaves a sweeping story of the Salazar family migration from Chihuahua City, Mexico to Texas in 1942.
The author’s keen understanding of the suffering and challenges faced by Mexicans moving north and the response of those who benefit from their labor ensures that at every turn this captivating story faithfully unveils with dramatic power the marginalization and isolation of the brothers Miguel and Raul Salazar and their uncle, Francisco.
Miguel’s poignant walk, like that of the biblical Job, touches on the essential nobility that comes from a man or woman’s determination and persistence in the face of great challenges and constant resistance. Grattan, with keen intelligence, uses his cultural knowledge, along with his consummate ability to tell a great story to prove again that a novel can change human understanding—and thereby literally change the world—by exposing readers to important themes such as injustice and oppression. (He is also a fine scriptwriter, as most recently confirmed by his ranking in the top two percent of all entries in three separate international screen-writing competitions.)
The novel, which traces two parts of the Salazar family—separated early on by the shenanigans of an Anglo labor contractor—unveils a powerful story of dreams about a new life, betrayal, false starts, and unrequited love, reaching its climax around the surprising outcome of the first ever organized farm-labor strike in Texas.
In this crucial encounter, Miguel’s uncle Francisco Salazar and his son Alejandro (who first tries to find success working with the growers) struggle against the villainous actions of a desperate grower and his unprincipled enforcer.
Even with the novel’s strong social focus, the delight of a great read is always present, as the story, like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, sings without ever becoming an elitist art form that excludes or preaches. The characters become forever part of the reader’s extended family and understanding of the world that North American society has created for Latinos seeking America’s promise of freedom and opportunity.
Like his female counterparts, Sandra Cisneros in Carmelo, her award-winning and very focused novel spanning generations of the life of a Mexican-American family, and Louise Erdrich’s nuanced understanding of the realities faced by indigenous Americans in Love Machine, Grattan’s well-woven story reveals essential truths concerning human fidelity and dignity. His characters gain life and believability through the writer’s well-tuned understanding of human nature and the rarefied craft he exhibits in telling a very large story extremely well.
My only regret is that the Salazar saga has not continued through subsequent novels that follow the family into their future.
(The novel will soon go into another printing. It may be purchased from the publisher or from amazon.com. ISBN 1-55885-140-2. It is in over 1,000 libraries in the United States and Canada and in the LCS Library.)