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Having posted my review of the new Casas book I invite open discussion of the work here on the blog. I did not see the manuscript and based my analysis of the book after it went to press. A recent review of the manuscript by Jim Glendinning says that Casas overstates racial prejudice in South Brewster County and that some of the "stated facts are just plain wrong". Do begin this discussion I pose the following two questions. Do you feel Casas or any other writers have overstated racism in the Texas Big Bend? Also, what in the book do any of you consider to be not to be factual?

If anyone has any difficulty posting comments on the blog please email me. Also, the book is available and in stock at Front Street Books in Alpine and Marathon. Telephone 800-597-3360. Let the discussion begin!


Friday, August 22, 2008, 08:41 AM

The Casas book can only be classified as a novel, complete with descriptions of its characters' mannerisms, emotions, and dialog. Had a New York publisher taken it on, I'm certain they would have put "hisstorical fiction" on the spine and published it as a mass market paperback -- but they didn't take it on.

A few family letters are offered as "historical documentation." And the only thing that might be considered factual is the use of real people's names. The author confesses to fictionalizing the Jorge Villalba trial [p.301]. And [p.XI] he tells us he "recreated" events as they might have happened from his family's perspective. But, even the author has to admit he injects his own biased "perspective." For instance[p.219]: The author -- in his own voice -- describes the prosecution witnesses as "lying sonsofabitches" and hostile -- and this without the benefit of a trial transcript which he tells us no longer exists [p.301].

Another instance[p.151]: In a fictinal setting -- again, complete with mannerisms, emotions, and dialog [and even snifters of Cardinal Mendoza brandy (!) which defense attorney Mead fusses over so eloquently]-- Frederico Villalba asks Mead, "How hard could it be to prove self-defense?"

" 'If it was the other way around and your boys were Anglo and the deceased were Mexican...not too hard," Mead said with a shrug of the shoulders." [Rimply read the inference behind the words the author has put into the mouth of the character Mead. To be fair, the author might have contacted Mead's descendants and got their take on what he might or could have said and felt. They might even tell us Mead didn't like Cardinal Mendoza brandy.] But this was obviously not meant to be an objective story with two sides.

There are other examples...

For the sake of argument, let me play on the author's own previous comment, and call it "anecdotal fiction." If that is accepted, then some might consider it a "good read." But don't call it fact-based "history" because it is not.

Felton Cochran

Thursday, August 21, 2008, 11:34 AM

I know that Mr. Ruan is a student of the Big Bend. Although I have never met him, I have learned to respect him and his knowledge by way of his friend and colleague, Mr. Glenn Willeford. His pointing out that I used the term "Villa interloper" is a bit pickyuny. Villa and his men were, by then, notorious cattle rustlers along the border. His activities, though not yet politically motivated, were very well-known and highly unappreciated by my great-grandfather and others. If the reader will recall, my great-grandfather called Villa the "accidental hero". Per my great-grandfather's assessment, Villa was a criminal who, by fortuitous circumstances, transformed himself into a "man of the people". In deference to Mr. Ruan, perhaps I should have called the cattle rustlers just that. Now, had I used the term Villista, Mr. Ruan would certainly have had a bigger bone to chew on.

As for the comment that the "racial issue is overblown". I submit to the reader that the racial climate is unfortunately, well-portrayed by events that took place in that era, and not by my invention. I did not concoct Porvenir, the transgressions of the Texas Rangers and the Army, the trial of my great-uncle Jorge for murder when it was clearly self-defense, or the murder of my great-uncle Jacobo.

To Mr. Ruan, I feel privileged that you chose to read my work. Aside from your points of disagreement, I hope that you enjoyed meeting the Villalbas. And, by the way, my book is an anecdotal history, not a novel.

Juan Manuel Casas

Wednesday, August 20, 2008, 11:08 AM

In my opinion Casas' book reads well as a family history or as a novel. Unfortunately, I think that anyone who is familiar with the history of the Big Bend and the Mexican Revolution would have some problems with factual statements.

Case in point: on page 17..."In 1909, Federico was approached by tghe sheriff who encouraged him to accept a commission. [as a Texas Ranger]Federico did so for one big reason. He didn't much care for Pancho Villa. It offered the American government's protection if he or any of his vaqueros killed an interloping Villa sympathizer." In 1909 Villa was not even a minor player in Mexican politics and history. Probably nobody in the United States had even heard of him. What was the possibility that "an interloping Villa sympathizer" would appear in the Big Bend and need to be killed.

I would agree wholeheartedly with Glendenning that the racial predjudice issue is overblown.

There are a number of other obvious historical errors.

Well written, interesting novel.

Gerald Raun

Monday, August 18, 2008, 10:19 PM

GJ, I'm surprised! There was so much YAH! YAH! about Mr. Casas book before it hit the shelves, and now, it seems, nobody wants to argue with him. Could it be that Casas turned out a better product than the naysayers expected>

Glenn Willeford

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