Klail City is part of the Klail City Death Trip, a chronicle of the Texas Rio Grande Valley. This novel moves between past and present so that the past and the present often appear to be the same. Like most of Rolando Hinojosa’s novels, Klail City lacks linear plot development. A series of vignettes create a sense of place and ultimately present a picture of a changing world. Several narrators, including the main characters of the series, Rafe Buenrostro (“Buenrostro” means “good face”) and Jehú Malacara (“Malacara” means “bad face”) tell the stories.
P. Galindo, Esteban Echevarría (a kind of wise man throughout the series), Rafe, and Jehú recount a variety of tales ranging from the story of a hastily arranged marriage between the pregnant Jovita de Anda and Joaquín Tamez to tales of the Texas Rangers’ abuse of Mexican Americans to the story of how Alejandro Leguizamón planned the murder of Rafe’s father, Jesús, and the revenge exacted by Jesús’ brother, don Julián. There is also a kind of interior monologue by Jehú as he and Rafe attend their twenty-second high school class reunion.
The past is interwoven with the present, particularly in the scenes that occur in the bars, where the old men, the viejitos, sit drinking and talking until don Manuel Guzmán, Klail City’s only Mexican American police officer, comes to take them home.
The sections entitled “The Searchers,” tell the stories of migrant workers as they leave their homes in the valley to travel north to pick produce. The narrator P. Galindo is introduced, and he reveals himself to be a kind of surrogate author for Hinojosa as he explains his interest in preserving a history of these people.
In addition, Rafe gives a personal account of what it was like in the 1940’s for Mexican American students in the American high school, and Jehú recounts some of his experiences as an orphan, an acolyte, and a traveling evangelist with Brother Imás. Brother Imás’ life story is told, as is Viola Barragán’s (Hinojosa’s prototype of the liberated woman), along with an account of how the whites used “bought” Mexicans to get their hand-picked candidates elected. This eclectic collection of vignettes makes up a book that, in 1976, won Latin America’s most prestigious literary award, the Casa de las Américas prize.