It is the 1980s and 14-year-old Orestes lives in a small makeshift house on El Cerro de la Chingada, which, as the notes helpfully tell us, can be translated as 'the hill in the middle of (f***ing) nowhere'. Every night Orestes battles with his six siblings for the quesadillas prepared by his mother, the number and nature of which fluctuate in response to Mexico's ever-changing economy. The action is driven by Orestes's longing to escape poverty, his house in the back of beyond, and his country's corrupt politics.
"Quesadillas" is a tremendously entertaining novel, enlivened by Orestes's voice - a mixture of frustration, bravado, and rage. Behind the picaresque story there is real anger as Villalobos unleashes the contempt he feels for the politicians of his native country.
The characters and dialogue are really colourful - from the swearing father to the eating scenes in the family's illegal shack. It has a very earthy realism to it and the lifestyles are both sad and funny - with a pithy commentary on 1980s Mexican politics thrown in. I liked it for the views of living in a large and very poor family, and how a living wage was almost impossible to earn without resort to petty criminal activity. There are some well crafted characters - eg Aristotle who is the elder brother from hell, the desperately seeking middle class status mother, the crafty Poles next door living in a mansion (a neat role reversal). The book also had good pace and a plot that moved along; however, I did not like the ending and almost gave the review three stars as it really brought the curtains down with a crash - just too ridiculous and far fetched for my liking - OK, I know it was meant to be funny but not a meaningful way to end.
Set in Mexico during the 1980s, the story is narrated by Orestes recalling his life at the age of thirteen. The language captures his self centred adolescent point of view as he describes his family and life in their small town. The descriptions are partly realistic of their respectable poverty and his parents' middle class aspirations. There is a lot of wry humour about the frustration he feels towards his family, home town and his place within both.
In keeping with the classical Greek names his father has bestowed on the seven children, Orestes and older brother Aristotle undertake a kind of odyssey to find their missing twin brothers Castor and Pollux. This touches on aspects of Mexican politics and economics of the period and seems to parody magical realism in the process.
It's a vibrant mix of madness and magic that just wouldn't be possible if he'd lived somewhere normal.
I am a subscriber to And Other Stories and it feels like a treat and a privilege every time a new book arrives on my doorstep. The books are tactile, with high quality paper and elegant folds on the covers - they feel very upmarket and special. This was my first read, and it's fast-paced and full of verve and humour, with touches of the bizarre and a magic realist ending that I note that other reviewers haven't appreciated - I say go with the flow - this is what Latin American fiction is known for and it's a wild ride. Loved it.
It's very engaging throughout, confirms all the stereotypes - the crazy useless father, the martyr mother, an older sibling taking advantage of his older age. We're set up to find the missing twins and when we get to the end - we do find them - but what a miserable, unrealistic ending to a story that was quite credible. Awful. awful. awful!