In This Review

By Juan Pablo Villalobos. Translated by Rosalind Harvey
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013, 0 pp

Narrated by a clever teenage boy, Quesadillas is a satirical, tragicomic, bottom-up portrait of Mexico in the 1980s, in the waning years of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s dominance. In its treatment of youthful rebellion and alienation, the novel recalls J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. But Villalobos places his unhappy teenage protagonist in a specific Latin American political setting that defines the character’s social milieu and his family’s dynamics. The boy’s father, a high school civics teacher -- poor, but not dirt poor -- sits in front of his television and screams curses at fraudulent politicians and other phonies, while his mother bakes quesadillas whose quality fluctuates with the rate of inflation. The family loses their home as the result of a real estate scheme hatched by local elites. But the family itself is also appallingly dysfunctional: there are too many mouths to feed, there is constant bullying and deceit, the father’s stubbornness and pride blind his decision-making, and the mother is an emotional basket case. Redemption comes only through fantasies allowed by the novel’s magical realism.