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Katz, Friedrich, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. 985 pp. ISBN 0-8047-3046-6
Poniatowska, Elena, Las soldaderas. México: Ediciones Era, Fototeca Nacional del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1999. 78 pp. ISBN 968-411-451-6 (Ediciones Era) ISBN 970-18-2068-1 (INAH)
Villa Guerrero, Guadalupe, and Rosa Helia, eds. Pancho Villa: retrato autobiográfico 1894-1914. Mexico City: Santillana Ediciones Generales & Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2003. 548 pp. ISBN 968-19-1311-6
There is probably no other single event in twentieth-century Mexico that has inspired more literary works than the Mexican Revolution. These include such notable texts as Martín Luis Guzmán's El Águila y la serpiente, Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo and Elena Garro's Recuerdos del porvenir. This body of literature is not only known for its shear volume but also for the variety of different perspectives that it presents. Perhaps one reason for these diverse points of view is the very complicated nature of the twists and turns in Mexican politics from 1910 on. The Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz was overthrown but that initial triumph against hito only unleashed a series of internal conflicts among several revoltuionary factions themselves. Another reason for the apparent lack of a unified interpretation of events is the massive bulk of ballads, legends, oral tradition and blatant propaganda that the Mexican Revolution generated, which greatly outweighs official contemporary documents of the time. It is the purpose of this review essay to discuss three books that are invaluable resources not only for the historian but also for the literary scholar specializing in this period. The first two books reviewed here deal specifically with Pancho Villa, who is arguably the most well-known figure from the time both nationally and internationally. These books are important recent contributions for anyone interested in studying this revolutionary protagonist and untangling the knot of legend that binds him. The third book is, in contrast, a photo album with an introduction by Elena Poniatowska that delves into a forgotten aspect of the revolution: the soldaderas or the women that followed the revolutionary armies and sometimes participated as combatants. I believe that these books together shed a much needed new perspective on the Mexican Revolution, which remains one of the most controversial and misunderstood historical events in modern history.
First, we will begin with Friedrich Katz's study The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Perhaps the value of this book lies in the fact that Katz undertook the enormous challenge of giving a much more accurate biography of Villa than has been available up to now. This challenge is made even more complicated by the lack of archival evidence and the attention paid to legends surrounding Villa, spread not only by friends and enemies but by Villa himself. In the prologue to his book, Katz divides these legends into three different types. The first type is the white legend that portrays Villa as a victim of Porfirian Mexico. The white legend is understandably based mostly upon his own accounts as he portrays himself as a man who cannot live in peace since he was forced into banditry in order to survive. The second type is known as the black legend which shows Villa as a killer and a bandit, with absolutely nothing in his character to redeem him. The legends in this group were mostly the product of his many enemies and US intelligence. Thirdly, there is the epic legend that derives from the myriad of ballads, rumors and memoirs that emphasize his importance as a pre-revolutionary figure and are the only ones that assign a social or political value to this revolutionary leader. However, all three of the legends have one thing in common: they cannot be corroborated by contemporary documents, and it is most particularly these sources that Katz wants to exploit to create a truer picture of Villa. In fact, he argues that in order to understand this controversial and multidimensional character better, one must not only examine contemporary documents but also make a critical evaluation of the …