Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Mexican Ullysses

Vasconcelos, José. A Mexican Ulysses: An Autobiography. Translated and Abridged by W. Rex Crawford. Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1963.

Reviewed by Rebecca Stuhr

Vasconcelos’s (1881-1959) autobiography, in its original edition, is comprised of four volumes. Translator Crawford has winnowed it down to one volume of under 300 pages for this edition. Critics consider this work to be a classic of Mexican literature. Vasconcelos’s life was unusually rich and his observations on his own life as well as the political and social changes within Mexico and in the United States make his book both enlightening and fascinating. He was a traveler, often exiled in the United States, but also in Spain, France, and England. Vasconcelos describes his education in Texas and in Mexico and his youthful sexual appetite. When he was not involved with establishing or opposing a presidential administration, he was seeking the time and place to write his three part philosophical treatise: The Ethics, The Metaphysics, and The Aesthetics. He served as the Minister of Education in the administration of Alvaro Obregón. Among other accomplishments, Vasconcelos established small libraries throughout Mexico and made Spanish translations of the Greek and Roman classics available throughout Mexico’s schools and libraries. He ran unsuccessfully for governor of Oaxaca and later for president. Vasconcelos was a strong nationalist and resented what he saw as the interference of the United States and Britain in the affairs of his country. He was nostalgic for the connection with Spain and admired much of what Spain contributed to Mexico. The book ends as Vasconcelos seeks final asylum in Argentina, his wife and son deciding to stay in Europe.

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