Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 401
Willa Cather's famous plea for "the novel démeublé" is more than answered in ["El Indio," an] uncommonly interesting story of Indian life in Mexico. You could not find a tale less cluttered with unnecessary literary furniture—or richer in episodes that make you believe the truth of what you read….
Nothing else you have read about Mexico is like "El Indio" [published in Great Britain as "They That Reap"]. In Ogden Nash's phrase about another matter, it is sui generis to a fault. The scene is a high, remote mountain village. All the Indians who live there are the characters. They aren't even given names. But you come to know them with an ultimate thoroughness based on seeing how they live day after day, what they do and what they fear and what they hate. Their games are as revealing as their battles. The enemy within the gates is fought as desperately as the invaders—gente de razon, which sardonically means people of reason—who come up from the plains below.
The story begins and ends with episodes of invasion. First the wandering plunderers who arrive to look for fabulous hidden caches of gold and who torture the Indians when they cannot find what they want. Then, years later, the men of the new day who bring talk of roads and schools and freedom and who plunge the Indians into the disastrous currents of politics.
Within that long interval there are the stories of many individual lives….
Lynn Carrick remarks in a prefatory note that "any one familiar with the main outlines of Mexican history in recent times will be able to interpret the story in specific terms of what has actually happened and is still happening south of the Rio Grande. But any such explanations would seem pointless and unnecessary. "El Indio" can be enjoyed for what it is without straining for symbolism or historical analogies." For that matter, this story could be given world-wide analogies. That's what makes the book ring true….
Gregorio Lopez y Fuentes does not make the fatal mistake of idealizing his people. He shows them as they are….
He has no facile solution to offer for the future of these Indians. But he has a compelling ability to make you see how they live.
Charles Poore, "An Uncommon Story of an Indian Village in Mexico," in The New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1937, p. 3.