Magic and mystery abound in “Chronicles of Air and Dreams: A Novel of Mexico” by Rosa Martha Villarreal (Archer Books: $22, 239 pages), but the book is not just another work of magical realism. Although the author is capable of dazzling and enchanting us with feats of literary legerdemain, “Chronicles of Air and Dreams” can also be read as a hard-edged historical novel, a ghost story with unsettling psychological overtones, and a postmodern parable about the search for meaning in a materialistic world.
The conjuring begins when Maria Elena Vazquez, a young Mexican-American woman from Northern California who works as a translator at an archeological dig in southern Mexico, survives the collapse of a pyramid and emerges from the ruins with the ability to speak only a single language–a dead language of the ancient past. Is her ailment best explained as a psychiatric disorder, or is it possible that Maria Elena has passed through the looking glass into a landscape in which time and place, gender and identity, are no longer fixed points?
Maria Elena appears to be haunted by a man who has been dead for nearly 500 years–Martin Cortes, the bastard son of Hernan Cortes, conqueror of Mexico, and the high-born Aztec woman named Malintzin who had served as translator to the conquistador. Eventually, Maria Elena finds herself drawn to a site in the Yucatan–the Pyramid of the Magician–and that’s when the secrets that have confounded her, some of them profoundly mystical and some of them very much in the here and now, slowly but relentlessly begin to reveal themselves.
What gives “Chronicles of Air and Dreams” so much of its power and punch is Villarreal’s own fascination with the politics that are at work in every human enterprise, ranging from a family in crisis to a nation struggling to resolve its oldest conflicts. Born in Texas and now living in Central California, Villarreal traces her bloodlines to 16th century Mexico, and she is animated as much by history and politics as by mysticism and magic. Above all, Villarreal succeeds in telling her tale in the clear and compelling voice of a gifted storyteller.
“Chronicles of Air and Dreams” brings to mind a primeval insect caught in amber, something strange and baffling that we are able to see and ponder with perfect clarity.
Causes Rosa Villarreal Supports
Non-ideological, critical, free-thinking.
Equal Rights for Women.