The last novel of Álvaro Enrigue (Guadalajara, 1969) is a map full of enemies. Thieves against military. Indigenous against settlers and Creole ranchers. Mexico against the USA and against Spain. Coyoteros against Gileños, Navajos and Wicker. Comanches, raramuris, yaquis against Apaches. Actually, all against the Apaches.
Its titled Now I give up and that's it, the words of claudication of the legendary Gerónimo in 1886.
From the figure of the great shaman of the war, strategic genius of three Apache bosses, Enrigue takes out the razor to shave historical data and spins through the more than 400 pages of the text a handful of satellite narrations: dozens of characters – from Pancho Villa to the American president Glover Cleveland- that crossed him in his 90 years of life; the kidnapping of a Chihuahuan woman by the warrior's stepfather, Mangas Coloradas; his persecution by a Mexican general at the head of an army of nuns and dancers; or the meticulous investigation of the author, inserted in the story with his family as a way of road trip through the rocky plains of the old Apachería.
Question. Why did you choose the surrender of Jerome as the axis of his novel?
Answer. The Apache War is a foundational moment for modernity in North America. Gerónimo in cultural terms does not belong to us, but it is a fact that he is one of the first Mexicans. He was born in New Mexico when it was still Mexican territory. If he had asked for a passport he should have been given. I would never have done it because what I most hated was the Mexicans: he lived most of his life at war with the Republic. But he was Mexican, a Spanish speaker, although his first language was the Atabascan
P. The famous final phrase said it in Spanish
R. His memoirs are dictated in Spanish and the phrase also because in the conversations with the gringo generals what everyone spoke was Spanish. They were in an area that 15 years before was still Mexico. The language of use was Spanish.
P. The book is also a challenge to the mythological story of western as conquest of the law about wild nature
R. One of my interests was to question the idea of a territory, a color of skin and a religion in an infinitely diverse world. In the westerns It would seem that the USA was coming to an empty, virgin territory. And no, they were coming to a place with laws, religions, temples and a functional government. What happened was that the Mexican government could not control the northern territories and lost the war.
P. How have you dodged the temptation to represent the Apaches as good savages?
R. The Apaches were not good people, least of all the Chiricauas, (the last nation of nations). The issue is not telling the story of good savages, just the opposite: there is a seed of violence that reaches the contemporary world. That the oldest son of Geronimo was called Chapo or the Apache guide of the army is called coyote is very significant. I think there are a number of ways of doing that are reproduced over time and that we have to work on how to eliminate them.
Professor of 17th century literature in New York for more than a decade, historical immersion is a constant in his latest novels. In Sudden death (2013 Herralde Prize) the match point is a hypothetical game of tennis in Rome between Caravaggio and Quevedo that unties an accordion of plots, from the hair of Ana Bolena to the intimate life of Hernán Cortés.
P. How does historical material work in his novels?
R. My works are a novel and the archive that sustains them. In Sudden death the sheets themselves appear and here the narrator works as a file. The other stories are explained based on that story. It is the information you need to read the rest. I work with the same material as historians but I have license to produce a thesis. A novelist can put on the table topics that are not under discussion in the world of historiography. You can fly theories as long as they are in narrative key. Now, I resist the idea that they are historical novels because where this novel finds meaning is not in linear succession but in the superposition of stories.
P. And what meaning does the insertion of the author have in the narration?
R. I conceive my novels as a formula and, in this case, I needed someone inside the novel who was investigating and commenting on the story of the three Apache chiefs with whom Geronimo lived. I believe that there is a fundamental courtesy of the novelist in telling the complete story to the reader. On the other hand, a novel is also a game. I find it funny that the characters are called as my children and my wife then; and I also believe that it can touch the emotional fibers of the reader. But, obviously, everything is fiction.
P. In this game of identities the author / narrator gets to say that he feels like an apache
R. It's those licenses. I would never dare to feel like an Apache. But a tablecloth is being used to generate the emotional texture of nostalgia for the gone continent, which may be the most recurrent theme in the book. What did we do to America? Why do we live in a continent that we do not even know what it's called, that it has the surname of an Italian punk? Why do not we have memory? What would that world have been like if the European occupation process had not been so overwhelming?