Villalobos, Juan Pablo, (c. 2012). Quesadillas. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 168 pages, $14.99 (pbk)
Orestes, one of seven children in 1980’s Mexico, tells of his adventures as he escapes the boredom and upheaval of a fraudulent society.
In the Jalisco region of Mexico in the 1980’s, thirteen year old Orestes, or Oreo, grew up in a large family surrounded by political fraud, political upheaval, out of control inflation and rich Polish neighbors. His father, a high school teacher, was a “professional insulter” who shouted at the television whenever any politicians were attempting to make a point and his mother dutifully fed the seven children, constantly grilling quesadillas for the family meals. Oreo is an opportunist that knows that life is not dished out with equal fairness. He was “well aware of the roller coaster that was the national economy due to the fluctuating thickness of the quesadillas (his) mother served at home.” (p. 9)
Oreo steals from his rich neighbor to embark on a journey where with the help of a “red-buttoned clicker”, he is able to support himself and relish the independence of not being the second oldest or part of a large family. But he decides to go back where he must own up to his wrong-doings and suffer the consequences for stealing by working for the neighbor. Oreo’s adventures are punctuated with sadness, sarcasm and a bit of awe for the audacity of existence that was seen as normal life in Mexico.
This story takes off with a bang and never stops. Thoroughly enjoyable if you like satire with a punch. Villalobos does not hold back when it comes to recalling life in Mexico where the distinction between the poor, poorer and very poor were not that different from the middle class. Oreo is a typical thirteen year old who enjoys poetry (thanks to his father the teacher), is not a push over (thanks to his oldest brother) and sees his surroundings as nothing more than a never-ending bad joke and landscape of survival where you can not ignore the opportunities. If you enjoy Christopher Moore you will definitely enjoy Villalobos.
Modelo Antiguo by Luis Enduardo Reyes. Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Book Discussion Questions:
Villalobos uses quesadillas both literally and figuratively. How does he work both into Oreo’s story?
Which is your favorite sub-character and why?
Why do you think Villalobos chose cow semination as the Pole’s profession that Oreo has to learn?
Reasons for selection:
I found this selection on the Shelf Awareness newsletter and thought I’d give it a try. I enjoy humor, especially satire, and have not read many stories based in Mexico. Villalobos is a great find and I look forward to reading his other works.
“After paying the bill, my father showed me the total on the receipt; it had seven figures. He told me I was going to pay him back this amount, that I would have to find myself a job….Since he didn’t mention indexing the balance for inflation, it was a steal. All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks for the currency to be devalued 8,000 per cent and I’d pay him back.” (p.99)