The Uncomfortable Dead by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos

“But he did not believe in the innate evil of politicians; he believed that if you became one for too long you end up turning into a prick, and that having power too long creates an obsession with power, and when your political power is over you’re left with money, which is another kind of power, and that’s why there are so many open drawers to stick your hand into, so many abuses; and to keep the country the way they wanted it, Mexico’s leaders in recent years had established a kind of supreme law of the land (one that was never made public and was kept in the supreme closet of the supreme leader), which dictated things like: The only principle of survival is the principle of authority. When your principles are in the gutter, the best thing to be is a rat. The Revolution will do us justice. Finders keepers, losers weepers. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. The law of the budget is to take your fill; if you don’t steal it, someone else will. “

Novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson and strategist for the Zapatistas, co-author The Uncomfortable Dead, a novel written by “four hands and twenty fingers.” Each co-author writes alternate chapters, with Marcos writing the odd-numbered chapters and Taibo writing the even-numbered chapters.

Marcos’s protagonist is Elias Contreras who works for the Investigation Commission in the Zapatista territories in Chiapas. Taibo’s protagonist is Hector Belascoaran Shayne, a one-eyed Private Investigator who works in Mexico City and whose scars are the “signposts” to his past:

“You see this eye I’m missing? It was blown out by a former member of the Judicial Police … now deceased. You know why I’ve got one leg longer than the other? From a shotgun blast fired by the same people who organized the halcones. I spent seven months and three days in a prison cell in Tabaco for proving election fraud was committed by the PRI some years ago. I was beaten by a mob led by a priest in Tlaxcala who was trying to exorcize the Pokemons, and it was me who gathered the evidence to put Luisreta, the banker, in prison.”

When the novel begins, Elias is sent to Mexico City (The Monster) on a mission, and Belascoaran is working on a mysterious case involving a man who was murdered back in 1969. The dead man, Jesus Maria Alvarado, was murdered as he left prison, and yet Alvarado leaves messages on answering machines referring to a mystery man known as Morales. The messages left by the dead Alvarado hint that Morales is a major player in Mexico’s Dirty War, responsible for the disappearances, torture, and murder of numerous Mexicans. Elias and Belascoaran eventually join forces to track down Morales, and they make an unlikely, but effective team in this surprisingly humorous mystery novel. Marcos even writes himself (and his favorite novel) into the plot, and believe me, he doesn’t stint when it comes to lacing the plot with sly digs at a fictional version of “El Sup.”

With references to actual events (the Acteal Massacre, the right wing group El Yunque) and Zapatista beliefs and organization, the novel represents a sardonic look at the politics of Mexico–a country in which “demonstrations only served to provide the Army with target practice.”

Akashic Books 268pp.

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