‘The land of great promise’: ‘The land of great promise’: Little metaphorical flight | Babelia

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the land of great promise It takes its title from a famous film by Andrzej Wajda, based in turn on a novel by the turn-of-the-century writer (and 1924 Nobel Prize winner) WS Reymont. This, one of the great works of Polish literature of the transition between naturalism and modernism, is in a certain sense characteristic of the desire for totality of the novel of those years: through the story of three unscrupulous young “entrepreneurs”, who set up a large textile factory in the industrial city of Lodz, Reymont gives the measure of the radical inequality of his time. But also, in a more universal sense, of the Faustian and destructive component of industrial societies. Now, is it pertinent to compare the desire for totality of those stories (and of those times) with the new novel by Juan Villoro?

Wajda’s film is the starting point for this narrative: it burned in the Cineteca of Mexico City in 1982, when the protagonists of Villoro’s novel were still living out their youthful dreams. Let’s say that it is precisely this fire, probably caused, that triggers the narrative engine of this novel, and also the beginning of the disillusionment of its protagonists.

Now let’s jump ahead to the year 2014. The protagonist of this novel, the Mexican documentary filmmaker Diego González, travels to Barcelona to film a film about mathematicians. He has been hired by a “mephistophelian” producer, Jaume Bonet, a dirty vestige of the divine left Catalan. This is perhaps the least ambitious project of González, a serious, risky and solemn documentary filmmaker, known for his interview with a drug lord, Vanilla, which led (voluntarily or involuntarily) to his arrest. Diego moves to Barcelona with his young wife and their newborn son. There he debates with Jaume about women, sex and betrayed love. There he dreams out loud erotic and guilty dreams that his wife (sound engineer by profession) records and exposes in their vulnerable moments, with terrible consequences. And there, in Barcelona, ​​he receives a visit from the Mexican journalist Adalberto Anaya (his link with the capo El Vainillo), a resentful man who shows a new dimension to the story. Has Diego fled from Mexico? Is he also corrupt, complicit in endemic violence?

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the land of great promise could have been an acceptablethriller, but it disintegrates in too many directions without any of them coming together. For example, he wants to become an ambitious fresco of recent Mexico, its betrayed ideals and political corruption. Also in an x-ray of the male midlife crisis. And perhaps the main limit of this novel is Diego’s own character and his omnipresent perspective: the insistent sexual reflections of mature men accompanied by beautiful young women, tinged with an unbearable masculine self-absorption and the fear of not fulfilling in bed. In this sense, the summer that the protagonists spend in the Empordà is especially significant: “You have succulent boobs,” Jaume told her quite naturally, “better than the boobs of Saint Agatha, who is beautiful but has the misfortune of being a dessert ”.

A guilt haunts the protagonist of the land of great promise, who feels both victim and accomplice of corruption; but this guilt does not end up taking off from his small interests as a character. It does not stand on a metaphor with sufficient scope.

cover 'The land of the great promise', JUAN VILLORO.  PUBLISHING LITERATURE RANDOM HOUSE

John Villoro
Literatura Random House, 2021
448 pages. €19.90

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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