By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
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A Wonderful Writer Once In Our Midst (II)
Jim Tuck’s second book is John Reed and Pancho Villa, and in my opinion, an even better book than his story of the Cristeros. For this book has in its starring cast two of the most spellbinding men of the 20th century. They were also a couple of its most quixotic, and both died mourning the death of revolutions they had given their lives for. Hence, theirs is the stuff of Greek tragedy, and in the Tuck’s artful hands, the story reads like one.
I have tried to analyze exactly what it is that gives this book its unique power. Certainly meticulous research has laid a strong foundation, and a graceful, often elegant style, has built on that base an imposing structure.
But there is more here than simply the craft of an accomplished wordsmith, and sturdier stuff to this literary edifice than just the standard brick and mortar which intensive research has brought to the book.
Jim Tuck’s secret, I suspect, lies in his approach to the material. Not content to only let historical events and the key players speak for themselves, he resembles not only a biographer but a highly intuitive detective.
Time and again, he pursues various subtle and elusive clues in both the background and psychological makeup of Reed and Villa, trying to understand why they did what they did, and then reacted to what they had done in such honorable but life-threatening and career-destroying ways. Such sleuthing methods have led Tuck to concentrate on a pair of elements which are the prime ingredients in all compelling characters who have led a larger than life existence: conflict, complications and contradictions.
John Reed, the social dilettante and literary gadfly who found something akin to religion in the Russian Revolution, (see the Warren Beatty movie, Reds, based on Reed’s life), then died deeply disillusioned when he discovered that there was no Worker’s Paradise in the USSR; Pancho Villa, the bandit and former meat butcher, who found fame and respectability in a popular cause, and then was murdered by fellow revolutionaries when he found it impossible to make peace with some of the very people he had put in power.
That both these quixotic and fascinating men once met in person must have been an event which most historians can never hope to adequately reconstruct, but that Jim Tuck has here given us such marvelous insights into their powerful personalities is much more than most readers could ever hope to find in a single volume.
(Ed. Note: Jim was for many years one of the Ojo’s very best writers, and these two masterful books are more than ample proof of his wizardry with words. Both books are now out of print but have on occasion been found at the LCS Library. Over the course of too brief a life, Jim wrote five books and some five hundred articles which were published by various magazines in the United States.)