El Paso

Alabama novelist and historian Winston Groom (Forrest Gump) combines his love of history with a mature talent for well-paced storytelling in El Paso. Set along the United States/Mexican border in the early 20th century, El Paso is the saga of a Boston railroad baron's financial slide as he tries to save his family's business and its vast cattle ranch in the state of Chihuahua in the face of the nascent uprising of Mexico's populist revolution. Pitting the fictional John "Colonel" Shaughnessy and his adopted orphan son, Arthur, against the popular Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, El Paso has the drama, coincidence and class intrigue of Dickens's Great Expectations in a setting reminiscent of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. Reflecting the historical zeitgeist, Groom scatters archival tidbits throughout his story--the engineering of single-wing airplanes, railroad technology and economics, Aztec mysticism and the Colonel's political nemeses: "the infernal federal income tax, Mexico, socialism, unionism, anarchism, trustbustingism, notions of alcohol prohibition and women's suffrage."

In Groom's capable hands, this history mixes easily into what is at its core a story of family, class warfare, loyalty and the violence of revolution. It is the story of the United States on the cusp of world dominance, with themes of immigration, wealth, self-determination and entitlement balanced against a strong sense of compassion and fairness. The nexus is the border city of El Paso. In Groom's imagined history, both sides of the Rio Grande have their dangers and rewards. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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