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The Milagro Beanfield War Paperback – February 15, 2000
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“Gentle, funny, transcent.” ―The New York Times Book Review
From the Back Cover
Joe Mondragon, thirty-six with not much to show for it, a feisty hustler with a talent for trouble, slammed his battered pickup to a stop, tugged on his gumboots, and marched into the arid patch of ground. Carefully, if impulsively (and also illegally), he tapped into the main irrigation channel.
And so began -- though few knew it at the time -- the Milagro beanfield war. But like everything else in the dirt-poor town of Milagro, it would be a patchwork war, fought more by tactical retreats than by battlefield victories. Gradually, ever so awkwardly, the small farmers and sheepmen begin to rally to Joe's beanfield as the symbol of their lost rights and their lost lands. The tale of Milagro's rising is wildly comic and lovingly tender, a vivid portrayal of a town that, half-stumbling and partly prodded, groped its way toward its own stubborn salvation.
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But then, once the river gathers strength and direction, you find yourself seeing the forces at work more and more clearly, as well as the upcoming battle ahead—and you read on (awake, when you should be sleeping) to find out, to find out…
His much larger than life characters (or characters living in a much larger than normal life—for they do) are both pathetic and heroic, and funny; and you cannot help but rooting for them in whatever insanities they set out to achieve. And as an aside, Nichols must have been speaking in Spanish tongues to come up with such a vast field of character names, I continued to amaze at this as I proceeded through the story.
Nichols’ description of Amarante Cordova’s beating Death in seven-card stud poker is, on its own, worth the price of admission and sets the tone for the depth and the bordering on pathological stick-to-itiveness of some of the Milagro populace. Yes, once you’re in with this crowd, you don’t want to leave.
The pebble-pelting Mercedes Rael is another larger than life character that floats in and out of the narrative as real as any ghost. Nichols handles her expertly and you’re always glad to encounter her again in the most unexpected (narrative-wise) places—though always true to the story.
Nichols’ weaving vernacular borders on the miraculous, while through it spring his vast cast of characters, all standing up and casting a shadow (as Faulkner demanded of fictional characters). They grow every-day real as your care and interest increases by degrees and the book (or Kindle) gets harder and harder to put down.
I read this book when first published, but have to admit I didn’t know English quite as well then. Twenty years of reading (and looking up words and their meanings) have primed me better for this experience, and this time around it’s a firework of glittering life.
Perhaps best of all; even character you like can act like bastards, while you understand why they do: that, in my book, is good—and very real—story telling.
side of the story broadcast, and it's the same as always: they get by, barely, with a sense of humor and a determination to survive.
The book IS a 'milagro' (miracle) of excellent writing, and highly recommended by this critical reader.