The bullet swallower A novel

Elizabeth Gonzalez James, 1982-

Book - 2024

"In 1964, when Jaime Sonoro, Mexico's most renowned actor and singer, discovers a book telling of the multitude of horrific crimes committed by his ancestors, he must pay for their crimes unless he can uncover the truth about his grandfather, the legendary bandido El Tragabalas, The Bullet Swallower"--

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Domestic fiction
Historical fiction
New York : Simon & Schuster 2024.
Main Author
Elizabeth Gonzalez James, 1982- (author)
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Physical Description
257 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Gonzalez (Mona at Sea) laces magical realism into her vivid epic of the Texas-Mexico border and the violence that shapes a family for generations. In 1895, Antonio Sonoro, a bandido living south of the border in the former mining town of Dorado, travels with his brother to Houston to rob a train. A shoot-out with Texas Rangers leaves his brother dead and Antonio with a hideous facial injury that earns him the sobriquet "El Tragabalas" (the bullet swallower). A parallel narrative set in 1964 follows Antonio's Mexican movie star grandson Jaime, who stumbles onto his grandfather's story and realizes its potential as a serious dramatic film role. The more Jaime learns about Antonio and about their family's perfidious history, the more he believes the film will allow him to redress the Sonoro name. Both story lines feature the mystical figure Remedio, a collector of blighted souls who has haunted countless generations of Sonoros. The novel's striking centerpiece follows Antonio and fellow desperado Peter Ainsley as they cut a swath across the border badlands. Their blazing guns and rich, Butch and Sundance--esque banter make Jaime's persistence in bringing their story to the big screen understandable. Readers will find this a refreshingly modern recasting of the classic western. Agent: Peter Steinberg, Fletcher & Co. (Jan.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

James's second novel (after Mona at Sea) is both the epic story of a family and a Western full of violence, machismo, and magical realism. In 1895, Antonio Sonoro leaves his drought-stricken Mexican village, crossing the Rio Grande to rob a train, with younger brother Hugo in tow. In the act, Hugo is killed by Texas Rangers, and Antonio is gravely injured. But he arises as El Tragabalas, the Bullet Swallower, on a quest for revenge that ranges across Texas and home again. In 1964 Mexico City, Jaime Sonoro is a movie star writing a script about his famous bandito grandfather. During his research, Jaime is mysteriously given a history of his family, going back generations. It's full of corruption, cruelty, and darkness and shakes up his comfortable life. In both timelines, the Sonoros are shadowed by the immortal Remedios, who must exact payment for generations of evil deeds. VERDICT This is a Western full of classic tropes, but it also surprises with its philosophical examination of generational trauma, justice and retribution, and racism and politics. The supernatural element ties together the timelines and the themes, adding resonance. With a powerfully drawn setting and viscerally convincing characters, James's novel is a strong addition to any general fiction collection.--Melanie Kindrachuk

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Historical fiction suffused with contemporary themes. Antonio Sonoro is the descendent of a long line of legendarily bad men in Dorado, Mexico. He, too, is a bad man, and he will become a figure of legend once he survives a shootout with the Texas Rangers that destroys his face and leaves his brother dead. As El Tragabalas--"The Bullet Swallower"--he inspires both fear and admiration. His grandson will make a different kind of name for himself as a singing cowboy. Jaime's life as a movie star is as pleasant as Antonio's was hard, but his tranquil existence is disturbed by two unexpected arrivals: a book detailing the evil exploits of the Sonoro men through history and a stranger who calls himself Remedio. Chapters that alternate between 1895 and 1964 show Antonio battling between his need for revenge and his desire for repentance, and Jaime struggling to understand what his family's past means for himself, his father, and his children. James makes such deft use of tropes from Westerns, Gothic literature, and magical realism that they don't feel like tropes at all. She clearly understands why these motifs persist, and she gives them life with prose that's both spare and intensely rich. This novel is valuable for its gorgeous language and gripping story alone, but the questions it asks could hardly be timelier. Should we be expected to pay for the sins of our ancestors? To whom do we owe reparations? How do we break generational cycles of abuse and trauma? There's not much overt discussion of race in this novel, but the impact of racism on Antonio's life is impossible to miss, as is his family's complicity in exploiting both the land and its Indigenous inhabitants. Mesmerizing and important. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.