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The Old Gringo: A Novel Paperback – February 20, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (February 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374530525
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fuentes, Mexico's leading novelist (author of Terra Nostra), invents here a lyrical and philosophical tale about the times of Pancho Villa and the Revolution in Mexico. The old gringo of the title is Ambrose Bierce, the Ameican journalist and writer who disappeared in the Mexican dust. Bierce went to Mexico to die, Fuentes speculates, because he could not bear to reflect on the pain and sacrifices his sanctimonious moral rectitude had caused his family. He joins the troops of the young revolutionary Tomas Arroyo, one of Villa's generals, who, as a "child of misfortune" ("bastard" in the servant quarters) was trapped in the hacienda and is now trapped by the revolution. Both the old gringo and the young revolutionary fall in love with Harriet Winslow, an American who had come to Mexico as teacher for the children on a hacienda which no longer exists, having been burned by the revolutionaries. Fuentes examines the borders between men and women, dreams and reality, Mexico and the U.S. ("a scar" rather than a border). Doomed never to understand each other, the two men inevitably die as they cross the frontier of their differences: the old gringo killed by Arroyo (whom he provoked by burning the papers of the history of Mexico) and Arroyo, in his turn, shot by Villa for overstepping his boundaries of power. In this fine short novel, Fuentes remains, as usual, wisely suspicious of both American politics and those of the Revolution. The problem here is that the author's posturing, his dramatic flourishes, never let us forget that this is all fakean invention, a meditation. November
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Clues scattered through this brief but intense novel gradually reveal the identity of the title character, an aging American writer who disappeared in revolutionary Mexico in 1913. Fuentes has made clever fictional use of an actual literary mystery, but his more remarkable achievement here is the portrait of the writer as a father figure to an American governess and to a general in Pancho Villa's army, each of whom has been betrayed by a real father. The tempestuous intimacy between governess and general and the complex relationship each has with the old gringo reflect the links and contradictions between Mexican and American cultures. This is a novel to be savored; it deserves more than a single reading. L.M. Lewis, Social Science Dept., Eastern Kentucky Univ., Richmond
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By T. M. Teale on May 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
Judging by previous comments on The Old Gringo, many readers are perusing the novel for the content relating to the fate of American writer Ambrose Bierce. To read Fuentes' novel for that purpose is to miss the fine points of the novelist's craft. Or, perhaps, The Old Gringo has simply gotten better since it was first published in 1985. It seems to me that the main premise of The Old Gringo is that Mexico and the United States should get to know each other, become less of a mystery to each other. This premise has become more true over the past two decades--particularly as the immigration debate heats up. Near the end of the novel, the revolutionary fighter Inocencio Mansalvo, looks from "What a shame. They're right when they say this isn't a border. It's a scar." To understand that view, the reader has to have read the previous 185 pages.

As a reader, I feel I ought to offer a compelling reason for others to seriously pick up this book--something more substantial than simply to read how Fuentes fictionalizes Bierce, a real person with a well-documented life. What I find so wonderful here is that Fuentes manages to teach me about Mexico and the United States without preaching, without stopping the flow of the story. First of all, the key to how Fuentes constructed the plot is that he knew enough about American life--he spent much of his youth in Washington, D.C.--that he could see very clear reasons how an American journalist like Ambrose Bierce would purposefully go to Mexico in the 1910s. The conjunction of actual, historical events gave Fuentes the main structure: the Mexican revolution coming as Bierce was aging, feeling bitter about his broken family, regretting that he had written lies for a William Randolph Hearst newspaper.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on October 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Goodbye, if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico--ah, that is euthanasia! -Ambrose Bierce in a letter to a friend
In 1914, the great American journalist and short story writer Ambrose Bierce, age 71, traveled to a Mexico that was in the midst of Revolution and promptly disappeared. He thereby fulfilled the dark prediction above and provided one of the great literary mysteries of the 20th Century.
In The Old Gringo, Carlos Fuentes offers his take on Bierce's fate. An "Old Gringo", carrying just a couple of his own books, a copy of Don Quixote, a clean shirt and a Colt .44, joins a group of Mexican rebels under General Tomas Arroyo. In turn, they meet up with a young American school teacher named Harriet Winslow, who was supposed to tutor the children of the wealthy landowner who illegally holds Arroyo's family property. The three become enmeshed in an unlikely romantic triangle, which necessarily ends in tragedy.
Fuentes uses the story to explore a plethora of themes, some of which I followed and some of which I could not. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the degree to which it reflects Latin American obsession with the United States, an obsession which it must be admitted is met by only a fleeting interest on our part. Fuentes and the tragic chorus of Mexican characters elevate the tale of the Old Gringo to the status of myth; ironic, since Bierce is barely remembered here, but then one of his themes is that we are a people without memory, while the very soil of Mexico carries memories.
It all adds up to a diverting speculation about an interesting historical puzzle, but I'm not sure that the story will bear all of the psychological and political weight that Fuentes loads upon it.
GRADE: C+
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By hdoolittle on September 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed Fuentes' The Old Gringo. It constitutes everything a novel should be: love, death, war, sex, etc. It includes themes of brotherhood, colonialism, relations between the US and Mexico, freedom, love across national boundaries, and what it is to die. I found Fuentes' prose to be beautiful and diverse; an intersubjective consciousness flows through the characters, revealing as well that we are all only readers, and we will never know the real story. Beacuse of his style, Fuentes enriches the text, makes it stand out and vibrate with life. It's tactile. His characters are complex and story line great.

For anyone interested in Latin-American works, I would highly recommend this one. It takes the revolution and gives it the colors we would never see as outsiders.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on December 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
Though this novel has all the hallmarks of a recognized classic, it is, surprisingly, only twenty-five years old. Set during Mexico's civil war in 1914, the author shows Mexico determined to be independent and true to its own history, while the US wants to create outcomes there which coincide with US goals and political agendas here. For more than forty years, Fuentes has also been fascinated with the story of American author/journalist Ambrose Bierce, who is believed to have vanished in Mexico during that war, and he exploits this long interest by making Bierce the "Old Gringo" of the title.

Bierce, age seventy-one at the time of his disappearance, had traveled the world and had already written most of what he felt he had to say. Drawn to Mexico, where a popular revolution was threatening to change the country's history, Bierce is thought to have gone there to join up with Pancho Villa and his men, who were fighting the federales and the government of President Victoriano Huerta, known as "the Jackal." Bierce never returned, his fate unknown.

On the level of plot, this is a story told by Harriet Winslow, a thirty-one-year-old American from Washington, D.C., who has been hired as a teacher by the wealthy Miranda family. Fuentes uses flashbacks to reveal Harriet's background and that of the Old Gringo, who has just arrived in these lands. Harriet regards the Old Gringo as a father figure, understanding that he has come to Mexico to die, while he in turn sees her as his final temptation before death. Harriet has had a brief but passionate relationship with Tomas Arroyo, the general who has driven out the Miranda family and hanged many of the federales protecting the property, and she is tormented by that relationship.
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