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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

With His Pistol in His Hand

**** With His Pistol in His Hand: a Border Ballad and its Hero by Américo Paredes. Nonfiction.

The ballad the book is written about

I borrowed this book from Dagny, who'd read it for a class. I didn't actually expect to like it, and the reason I borrowed it was Dagny's over-dramatic reading, complete with accent, of certain parts on the phone.

There are two major facets to the book: the story of Gregorio Cortez and the resulting ballad and legend, and the development of a border ballad (corrido).

Both parts were fascinating. Despite having lived in San Antonio for 7 years, I really didn't know much about the history, and With His Pistol in His Hand does a wonderful job of conflating the true story, the legend and the ballad that arose from it, and the historical and cultural environment that are both backdrop and cause of the story.

Briefly, Gregorio Cortez became a fugitive when he killed a sheriff who'd shot his brother. It's a story of prejudice and cultural clashes not unlike those faced by native- or African-Americans.

I feel a wee bit shallow admitting that I appreciated that the injustice wasn't the main focus of the book. It's not ignored, but it's included to illuminate the story, not as an end in itself.

Then there's the development of the legend and the ballad, which is culturally significant--that is, the culture affected how and in what directions they developed. It's also the sort of thing I very much enjoy: watching how something evolves over time. How and why the ballad changed over the years and between singers was fascinating to me, as was (surprisingly) the explanation of the minutiae of border ballads--from the meter to the specific choice of individual words.

I blame Dr. Paredes's writing for that last, since I had no previous interest in the structure of ballads, nor do I speak Spanish. Despite that, he made me want to learn more. I intend to look up more of his books.

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Great review. I read a book a couple years ago about the hisory of corridos and "narco-corridos" very interesting stuff. It is kind of a mirror to some of the early Johnny Cash songs and the rap genre isn't it?
It is, rather. And it was interesting how the types of heroes in the ballads depended on where the ballads were sung: what's considered a hero isn't necessarily the same everywhere. Something I knew, but never really thought about.

I thought about you while I was reading this because it made me think of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which I read (but have yet to write about *sigh*) because you'd talked about it.
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