From Publishers Weekly
The first novel from L.A. Times reporter Tobar is a gripping tale of revenge set on the lowest rung of L.A.'s social ladder, amidst the hardscrabble lives of illegal immigrants and the homeless. The fates of Guatemalan death-squad veteran Guillermo Longoria and traumatized, homeless refugee Antonio Bernal have been entwined since the day Longoria killed Antonio's wife and son in Guatemala. Obsessed by memories of his family and also by the mental picture of the assassin with a yellow jaguar tattooed on his forearm, Antonio ends up as one of LA.'s drifting dispossessed. By chance he sees Longoria in MacArthur Park and is electrified by the possibility of avenging his loved ones. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet Longoria, a peasant who was forced to join the army but eventually grew to love the power it gave him. He absorbed the twisted logic that justified the massacre of an entire village to drive out the "infection" of communism, but he too is now haunted by memories. The novel's denouement occurs during the 1992 L.A. riots, a colossal day of reckoning when the powerless underclass of L.A. erupts in fury and when both men move toward their fates. Tobar's prose is clear and crisp, authentically colored by the liberal use of Spanish phrases. He never sentimentalizes Antonio's tragic story, and even the hateful Longoria is depicted with understanding of the social forces that molded him. The complexities of these two characters give this novel power and weight. 7500 first printing.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
California journalist Tobar's disturbing debut neatly and credibly brings two Guatemalan adversaries together by chance on the streets of Los Angeles, where they play out the endgame of a deadly struggle begun in their homeland. Antonio, once a middle-class government worker in his native land, is now homeless in L.A., having seven years ago just missed the death squad that came for him but instead killed his wife and young son. His despair and shame at having fled have never left him, but when one day he glimpses a Jaguar tattoo on the arm of a chess player in MacArthur Park, recognizing one of his family's killers, Antonio knows a new feeling: vengeance. The ex-soldier Longoria, as yet unaware that he's being stalked, goes about his highly regimented routine, striving to better himself at chess while holding down a security job at a crooked Guatemalan parcel service and keeping his small apartment--where he has a collection of photos of his victims--spotless. Antonio, all but invisible as a homeless man, studies his enemy carefully, then decides to act. But his plan to attack the sergeant at the chess tables with a length of pipe, in broad daylight, is ill-conceived and goes awry. Only wounded, Longoria is now wary, but Antonio doesn't give up. He buys a gun with the help of a homeless friend, and, in the chaos of the South Central riots that erupt soon after, the hunter and his prey meet again in a confrontation that is protracted but decisiveand through it Antonio is finally able to put his shame to rest. Tobars characters are thin, but his tale not only vividly reenacts the horror of death-squad victims everywhere, but also sheds an honest and even light on the stark realities facing the homelessand many immigrantsin America. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.