Crazy February

Crazy February : Death and Life in the Mayan Highlands of Mexico

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Products of the "imagination," such as novels, can be especially useful tools for understanding how things work in societies far removed from our own experience. Through the telling of a story, a sound ethnographic novel conveys more than information. It involves the reader in the dynamics of life in places where the rules for action are very different from the rules the reader makes his own decisions by. Some people believe ethnographic novels are comparable to field notes - the data themselves in their original, unanalyzed form. Though I can see the reason for the analogy, the author still disagree with it. Good field notes record raw experience. For the time being, the anthropologist squelches his desire to interpret, and he writes down everything he can see or remember. Good ethnographic fiction also presents experience raw, without generalization. But in building the story, in selecting to tell this because it is important and not to tell that because it seems trivial, the novelist is analyzing his material. Between the raw and the cooked, both ethnographies and ethnographic novels belong in the processed pot. Anthropologists try to make explicit and public both the method they have used to gather their material and the means for analyzing it. Ordinarily, a novelist obscures his analysis - the grounds for the choices he has made - and depends on the interior logic of the story to make his tale seem "true" or "believable." But Crazy February works with somewhat different principles than the author would normally use in writing "fiction." The book grew directly out of field experience. Wilson felt strongly that it would stand or fall on its ethnographic correctness. And so, faced with choices between what the author would like to see in the story and what he thought would actually happen to an Indian in the mountains of Chiapas, he consistently chose "actuality." In a practical, day-to-day writing sense, reality was the author's rod and my staff. And in the end he was very happy when anthropologists with greater experience in the Mayan area found the book essentially exact and, more important, true to the spirit of the place he had written more

Product details

  • Paperback | 264 pages
  • 134.4 x 199.6 x 16.5mm | 285.77g
  • University of California Press
  • Berkerley, United States
  • English
  • 0520023994
  • 9780520023994

Flap copy

"Indeed, they [the Mayan Indians] are more subtly penetrated by Carter Wilson than were the famous 'Children of Sanchez, ' as tape-recorded by Oscar Lewis. Without the intrusion of theory and without even a shadow of jargon, Mr. Wilson has given his book sociological validity. At the same time, it remains a work of poetic truth."--"New York Times Book Review"show more

About Carter Wilson

Carter Wilson, Professor of Community Studies and Fellow of Kresge College in the University of California, Santa Cruz, has also written I Have Fought the Good Fight (1967), A Green Tree and a Dry Tree (1972), and Treasures on Earth (1981).show more

Review Text

The small, unrelated acts of violence occur within a month in a Mexican village to which the boy descends, down mountain paths, his father's body strapped to his back. He had killed him when drunk. The President, ill and weary of such sad, recurrent duties, must put him in jail. Each chapter takes its focus from one of the characters - from Mario, the Indian who is the doctor's aide but who calls the drunkard-curer for his sick father; from the President who finally dies; from the teacher, the Maestro, almost resigned to the hopelessness of life in this backwater; from the arrogant Juan Lopez Oso, the president's successor; etc. Wilson, unlike many first novelists, excludes himself from the story and whatever he saw here is found wholly through the encounters and attitudes of his characters - the distrust between Mexicans and Indians, the intricacies of power and justice, the sere subsistence level in a country trying to shed the skins of poverty, illiteracy and a manana resignation. Young Mr. Wilson is a gifted writer able to project in a clear, almost austere prose, the sense of slow time in an anonymous village just such as this - lying behind "the mud-walled stores, the Cabildo, the Church, all bathed in pale yellow light from the west and crossed with thick shafts of shadow." With more hope than conviction, one looks to an audience. (Kirkus Reviews)show more