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The Rebellion of the Hanged by B. Traven

The Rebellion of the Hanged (1936)

by B. Traven

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Book #5 in the six-volume Jungle series of the oh-so-mysterious German author B. Traven, The Rebellion of the Hanged is my second least-favorite book of the series thus far: only The Carreta (book #2; "The Ox-Cart") was worse. (I've yet to read the 6th and final book, The General From the Jungle.)

The premise of the Jungle series is that the real roots of the Mexican Revolution originated from the maltreatment -- essentially legalized debt slavery by another name -- of the various Indian tribes by the Mexicans and the various foreigners who came to Mexico under the reign of Porfirio Díaz to grab their unfair share of the pie. Books #1 through #4 (Government, The Carreta, March to the Montería ["montería" means "mahogany plantation"] and Trozas) take place roughly in the first decade of the 20th century; The Rebellion of the Hanged's last half occurs in 1910, when open rebellion against Díaz's regime has finally broken out in the north.

Traven is very good at giving the reader a sense of the terrible human cost that extracting most kinds of wealth from the land has: forget "sweat equity;" when thinking about many of the world's natural resources, one needs to add the prefix "blood" to them (as in "blood diamonds"), whether one is thinking about gold (as in Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) or mahogany (in Spanish "caoba"), as in the Jungle series. Reading the Jungle series will -- or should -- make you think twice before plunking for mahogany furniture.

Reading Rebellion, I can understand more fully what doubtless set the John Birchers at Henry Luce's Time-Life empire (which published The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in the early 1960s) a'quivering in righteous indignation: Rebellion is polemic, doctrinaire, and not as denunciatory of the Soviet regime as some of the other books in the series. Despite the publishing info about Traven's books that I've spotted on the Net, I strongly suspect that The Carreta and Rebellion were written earlier than the other books, unless his brains were pickled by the prodigious quantities of alcohol which he supposedly quaffed on a daily basis. (Even while living in Chiapas -- ugh!) These are far and away the two most simplistic and naïve books in the series thus far; they're also the least humorous and satirical.

The revolution -- the rebellion of the title -- doesn't arrive until the last third of the book, and when it does, almost all forward movement in the narrative grinds to a halt as the revolution's leader-cum-prophet expounds at length, blithely excuses his followers' massacres, and is acclaimed the wisest man in all of Mexico by his rapturous and selfless disciples. Traven's strong suit was never individual characterization, but I found this to be much too much, and I didn't get the sense that Traven's normally finely honed sense of irony and cynicism tipped to the fact that the revolutionaries were every bit as murderous as the regime of blood-sucking parasites they were rebelling against: the fact that the Indians were illiterate and never knew of an Indian who had had a successful dialogue with a "white man" or a mestizo doesn't (or shouldn't...) provide them with a carte blanche to murder all in their path. The fact that the caoba workers are egged on by an academic who tells them to burn any and all scraps of paper with any sort of writing whatever on them makes the rebels' actions especially fraught.

All in all, the Jungle series is worth reading; but be prepared for a heavily sentimentalized treatment of the Indians as "noble savages" (in The Carreta) and for a rubber stamp endorsement of anything and everything so long as it is in the name of La Revolución! (in The Rebellion of the Hanged). If you can make it past these languors, Traven has many interesting things to say about government, economics and consumerism. ( )
1 vote uvula_fr_b4 | Oct 15, 2006 |
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Nahe dem Orte Chalchihuistan, in einer Siedlung kleiner, unabhängiger indianischer Bauern, die den Namen Cuishin hatte, lebte auf seinem Ranchito der Tsotil-Indianer Candido Castro mit seiner Frau Marcelina de las Casas und seinen beiden Söhnen Angelino und Pedrito.
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Oorspr. Nederlandse uitg. o.d.t.: Modesta
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Soft cover book titled The Rebellion of the Hanged by B. TRaven

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