“The Queen of the South” book review by Edgardo
Author Arturo Perez Revete
In the original Spanish “La Reina del Sur”
The Queen of The South or “La Reina del Sur” has impacted the entire Spanish speaking world. It has also been published into many other languages as well. Spanish Author, Arturo Perez Revete has brought to light a fictional tale of “Teresa Mendoza” La Mexican as they would call her everywhere except inMexico. At once it is an unlikely story, yet at the same time it is a story that could have happened to any young attractive girl in Mexico. Except that it doesn’t happen very often. The girlfriends of the narcos and contrabanistas are along for the ride, or they play a minor part in the organization. Of course in the 20 years or so since the time frame of the “Queen of the South”, much has changed. Women do bring social and organizational skills with them wherever they go, and they make excellent spies and they can also work “undercover” in every sense of the word. Excellent information can be gained through pillow talk, and also women tend to be underestimated and that is usually helpful.
But Teresa Mendoza “La Reina del Sur” went beyond what anyone would suspect. She becomes internationally famous, and left very large tracks on the face of international trafficking in Western Europe, Spain and North-West Africa. And she endured for quite a while, becoming “la jefa” of the largest cocaine and hashish trafficking organization in the region. And yes her reach extended even to Russia as well. Teresa moved the merchandise, with sleight of hand and deception, and she had a head for figures and business. And all it took for her to get started was a poor choice of a boyfriend.; well not a bad choice if she hadn’t gotten serious with him.
The novel opens with a special telephone given to her by her Chicano boyfriend “Guero” Davila,”The king of the short runway.” an almost archetypal dashing, daring, reckless, and in this novel, a little too death defying. “La Muerte” called his bluff. Guero had warned Teresa, “if this phone rings, it means that I’m dead and you should run. As fast and as far as you can.” She escapes with her life, and her old, almost care-free life is left behind. Now her adventure is first of all just to stay alive. At that time in Sinaloa Mexico, when you’ve been green lighted, none of the odds are in your favor.
One of the many fascinating things that makes the book what it is, is the character study and the contradictions within the actors themselves as they play out the tragic farce of greed and death, enslaved to their criminal traditions and the Yankee dollar. Excepting for the true sociopaths and the psychopaths, murder wears people down. Especially murder of the innocents. Not even “La Santa Muerte” or her death cult can protect against this. So perhaps because of the shear weary banal effects of excessive slaughter, the Godfather of the Sinaloa Cartel lets her escape and even helps her. He misreads Teresa Mendoza, on many levels, as do many others. His action here, leads to the denouement. It promises to be both bloody, surprising, bittersweet, yet full of a hollow incompleteness. Yes…much like real life.
Teresa Mendoza raises her life back from near death; credit luck and good fortune and her own impeccability and constant attention to what it takes for survival. But she pays a price, maybe the ultimate price, though rest assured she survives the end of the story.
Perhaps the most minor character, that is the most major here is “Lieutenant O’Reilly” who shows Teresa the ropes during a stint in a Spanish prison, shows her how to dress, how to play the prison games required, and most important shows her the values of books, knowledge and the life of the mind. But as we know, or at least we all can intuit, this is never enough. It certainly is not enough for Lieutenant O’Reilly, real name Patty.
Patty is the bi-sexual black sheep daughter of a very well off Irish-Spanish Family; very rich, but very cold, unfeeling and plastic. At first a benefactress to Teresa, later on she becomes a complication. “La Mexicana” has had two great loves in her life. And like so many women before was led into the “Life” by her lovers, and yes, by her own ambition as well. There was another love that also furthered her career, but it was a love she could never return…she didn’t “swing” that way. All three of the people she cared for the most died and no romance of hers would ever be more than star-crossed at best. It does manufacture sympathy for her. But she never will be the leading lady the reader will fall in love with. That may be a luxury of life that the Mexican girl from Sinaloa could not afford.
There is a technique used in writing the book, that actually did work, but without it, the book may have worked better. “The Queen of the South” is told in two voices, one anonymous third person , and the other first person in the form of reporter researching the legendary “Queen of the South.” The two voice technique does flesh out the story, as we get vignettes and information even on minor characters and customs of a world the we Americans ( in the most inclusive sense) know little of.
Since the publication of Queen of the South” in 2002, Teresa Mendoza has almost in peoples minds gone from a fictional character to become a real flesh and blood woman. There are corridos about her and there has been a wildly successful Mexican Telanovela as well. And her story is not really over yet, just the players change but the game goes on. One question the book did raise, probably not intentionally, is why smuggling is so many more times violent in Sinaloa, Tamalipas, Nuevo Leon etc, in Mexico and why is it so many times more pacific in Europe? I think it is the influence of the United States, but I’m sure there are other factors as well.
Music Video La Reina del Sur
Grab a copy from Amazon:
Here is a clip from the Mexican telenovela “La Reina del Sur” starring Kate Castillo.