In the Shadow of Tlaloc: Life in a Mexican Village – Gregory G. Reck

KokapetlThe remote Mexican village of Jonotla lies in the shadow of the rock of Tlaloc, named for the ancient god of rain whose spirit has dwelt among its inhabitants for centuries. In the mid-1960s the twentieth century finally came to the fifteen hundred villagers of Jonotla—in the form of roads, cars, buses, electricity, and a more competitive form of life. In this moving account Reck sets out to document what effect these changes have had on the villagers. This study is part of the universal drama that is inevitably played out wherever and whenever the past and the future meet in sudden conflict.

There is something wonderful about coming across a book you’ve never heard of, that engages you through the blurb and the fleetingly glanced at sentences.  Then you read it and it so much more than you hoped it would be and is a more than worthy addition to your book shelf.  This is – unsurprisingly – with such an introduction one of those books and needs to be shared with all lovers of life, knowledge and culture.

Mexico, a land of myth and Christianity, the impact point of two worlds collided long ago is the setting and the locals of Jonotla claim to be descended from the same tribe that produced the people who would later become the Aztecs.  This ancient place is one example of another seismic event, the impact of the modern world on a peaceful farming village.  anthropologist Gregory G. Reck uses it as the ideal vantage point to see just how social interactions and cultural heritage changes the mindset and daily life of its 1500 inhabitants.

From the outset I knew this book was going to have some real journalistic merit, it captures the patchwork of life, following a plethora of characters but in the main centres around Celestino, a man with big dreams but less in the way of luck, an average Joe, somebody whom the reader can relate to.  His trials and fears are universal, the struggle for life’s meaning and to have security, to come to terms with one’s own past whilst trying to make something better for ourselves. Throughout the book we get an interwoven sense of longing, apprehension of the future, hope and just occasionally a sense of peace and a glimpse of true happiness.

The arrival of a new and increasingly invasive world is troubling and at odds with what has gone before.  New challenges rock the foundations of Jonotla, a declining population as young people are better educated and wish for more so leave to get better jobs, through to the aggressively competitive male hierarchy that has slowly become the norm and eroded community spirit.

We view these people through specific points in their lives and also explore the memories of times past and it is that feeling of experience but with a sense of detachment from the author that gives the book its rich quality, it’s a book full of life, not ideal life but real life with those victories, failures and insights that come upon us at unexpected junctures,  It’s the chasing of dreams just beyond reach,  the transitory nature of each moment before the inexorable push on to the next evolution of society and self understanding happen,

Both melancholy and heartwarming, it’s a thought-provoking piece and still relevant today.   The ambivalent state of the individual and thus the nation is something that is seen more and more as community is superseded by individual ambition and desire for the self rather than for the collective.  Money is the root cause that seems to be a surrogate for happiness yet to balance it out, a better standard of living has come to a lot of people through these changes, in the end perhaps a re-embracing of cultural traditions amalgamated with technology would be the least frictious way to go but only time will tell.

There is a fine line between objectivity and plain data Versus emotional observation of the human aspect but Reck does well to balance the two in what must certainly must have been a fine challenge to write.  Both are perfectly amalgamated and it does make the struggle through life, through one’s inner thoughts sound all the more noble for it.  It’s well worth a look if you have an inclination into the curiosities of what it is that makes us tick and a little self-examination along the way is never a bad thing.

27 Replies to “In the Shadow of Tlaloc: Life in a Mexican Village – Gregory G. Reck”

    1. I meant to ask the other day if you had already been on holiday or not but forgot due to having a memory that distrusts longevity unless it happens to concern a book. It’s rich in culture and I hope you get a glimpse of the old on your travels as well as the new.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sounds like a very interesting book. Did you happen to get to Mexico or Central America elsewhere when you were over here, Ste J? If not, maybe that should be one of your next planned destinations. I’ve never been there, and now I’m regretting that I didn’t go earlier, because a wave of petty crime and not-so-petty crime has become the norm in some tourist destinations. But I know that armed with your recent book knowledge of the conditions and maybe heading for some less traveled roads, you might just find that paradise around the corner, without the fillip of danger that some tourists, I can’t figure out why, seem to find attractive (I’m thinking now not of Mexico, but of the numerous people who have been attacked by lions in a South African lion sanctuary because they ignored several written and posted warnings to keep their windows rolled up. They were allowed to bring their own cars in, what more did they want?).


    1. I didn’t make it any further south than Portland OR last time, the crime there is a little worrying, my newly wed friends went over there and gott caught up in the taxi cab wars but came out unscathed luckily. It would be great to go somewhere real, away from all the touristy clichés and experience a totally different culture with a family, I seem to make that a habit haha! All the cars these days seem to have air con so they really have no excuse, it must be tempting to want to touch these creatures but one would think the instinct and common sense for preservation would kick in at some point.


      1. Do tell! What were the taxi cab wars about? They are very expensive here, a little less bad in Canada, but that was in 2013, the last time I was there; who knows what they are now, not bad I hope, in case I get to go this year sometime.


        1. When I was first told, I assumed it was a reference to the old A-Team episode of the same name but apparently the rival taxi firms have their own patches and if any of the rivals go onto their patches there are reprisals. My friends didn’t know this, just got in a taxi that was then forced to pull over by a couple of other cars, there was plenty of remonstrating in Spanish and then they were ushered into another cab to be taken to their destination. They didn’t know what was going on and when they started going down back roads, they feared the worst as you would but luckily it was just a short cut.

          Taxis are pretty expensive here as well, especially when travelling by one’s self but at least it’s a safe way to travel. I hope you do get a trip over the border and get a less dramatic story to tell but still an interesting one.


    1. Glad you liked it, there was so much in the book that it was one of those books that had me writing copious notes that took longer to write up than the actual review that resulted from them lol.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe it was Gregory peck but because he lacked imagination when it came to name changing, he could only come up with Reck.


  2. This sounds a good book. There is always that sadness when an isolated group of people find technology. Things will never be the same again. Good review Ste J!


    1. The passing of a world is always a sad thing to see but makes for a fascinating case study, this was a review which didn’t take me long once I’d assembled all my copious notes and then discarded half of them. If you can get hold of it, I think you will enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s quite easy to find pictures of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, online. He’s a frightening looking deity but then, they were into blood sacrifice in a big way.
    When was this book published? Do you know?


    1. Mexican art is always eye catching and a bit freaky, I think that’s why we love it. The book was published in 1978 but despite the age or perhaps because of it it’s a book I am really smug to have just happened upon.


    1. It’s the only way to travel for me, to spend it with people, I would have to learn the language somewhat if I were to attempt it but I do like a challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Nobody likes change, it isn’t all bad but really we should take our time and ease into it. It’s an age old clash though and something we will probably never master until we get to Star Trek times of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps it is because we spent a year in Mexico that this book sounds so intriguing. Whatever the reason I will be giving it a go. Thanks Ste J. 🙂


    1. A year, I’d love to stay somewhere that long, I like to push myself experience wise these days although I tend to do most of that from the comfort of a chair but it does save my legs. Once again I apologise for adding to your book pile but having lived down that way, I think that you will probably enjoy it even more than I did.

      Liked by 1 person

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