This collection of sketches about Rolando Hinojosa’s fictional Belken County, situated just north of the Mexican border in Texas, was Hinojosa’s first major publication. Originally, it was rendered in Spanish with English translations by Gustávo Valadéz and José Reyna under the title Estampas del valle y otras obras/Sketches of the Valley and Other Works. Hinojosa himself translated it under the present title in 1983, adding some material and a set of photographs from his family album. The collection constitutes a novel by some definitions of the term, but it also is the first major segment of Hinojosa’s evolving multivolume “Klail City Death Trip” series. Hinojosa focuses on the area around his birthplace, Mercedes, Texas (Klail City in his series). In these sketches, he attempts to capture the ambience of the area and its people.
The Valley lacks the real plot, the dramatic climax, the carefully planned denouement, and the clearly identifiable protagonist found in conventional novels. Nevertheless, it contains pervasive characters, including the frequent narrator, Rafa Buenrostro, the biographical details of whose life closely approximate Hinojosa’s. It also presents Jehú Malacra, seen through many eyes at various stages of his development. The last pages of the book, “A Life of Rafa Buenrostro,” focus on Rafa.
Three early sketches—a total of twenty-three printed lines—focus on Rafa’s early school experience and evoke the sense of separation Mexican American children feel from their Anglo classmates and teachers. The three paragraphs that constitute these sketches are not directly related to one another. Rather, each provides a snapshot of something connected with that early school experience: the teacher, Miss Moy, is described in five lines; a Hispanic girl lies about what she had...
(The entire section is 757 words.)