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Angeles Mastretta: Arráncame la vida (Mexican Bolero; Tear This Heart Out)

Mastretta’s best-known novel tells the story of a woman married to a ruthless Mexican general/politician. Catalina is just fifteen when she is seen by General Andrés Ascencio, fifteen years her senior. He courts her and proposes to her. Both Catalina and her parents are flattered and soon she is Señora Ascencio. The novel is her first-person account of the problems it brings. Ascencio is not only a successful general but also a successful politician. During his career, he will become governor of the state of Puebla and then adviser to his friend, the president of Mexico. He even has ambitions of becoming president himself but does not make it.

However, this novel is told from Catalina’s point of view. Initially, she is happy enough. She has money, a man she loves and, soon after, two children. But gradually, things do not go quite so smoothly. When Ascencio becomes governor, she is put in charge of charitable works. As a result, people come to her with tales of her husband’s abuses. He sees a house. He wants it. The owner is forced to sell – at the general’s price. She hears stories of people beaten up and killed, not by Ascencio but certainly with his knowledge or on his orders. Her initial reaction is to run away, which she does, but she returns and tries to persuade him to change his ways or, at least, to help individuals. She soon learns of his various affairs and his bastard children. She also finds out that he was previously married (his wife died of typhoid) and gets to meet her step-children, who come to live with them. One of her friends tells her a tale of a woman whom he personally killed because she resisted his advances.

Though she seems to remain attached to him, she starts being interested in other men. Her first interest is the secretary to the president but when she hears that the general does not seem to mind as the secretary is gay, he effectively gets written out. Her main love is Carlos Vives who is the conductor of a symphony orchestra and a politician. Their affair blossoms but he is eventually kidnapped and found dead in a secret prison. It is not clear whether it is for politics or for his affair but it is clear that Catalina blames her husband, at least in part. At this point they drift apart more and for some time she goes to live in one of their houses in Acapulco. She does have a support group – the wives of other generals/politicians. Her friend Bibi, for example, marries a rich (they all are) general because she does not want to be poor but soon falls in love with a Colombian bullfighter and does not want to be near her husband any more. They commiserate together. After Vives’ death, she eventually finds another lover, a film director, and this one her husband leaves alone. After the death of her husband, she delivers a speech to his corpse about his cruelty and how she despises him. Nevertheless, she remain married to him and was very happy to enjoy the fruits of his ill-gotten gains, including the house in Acapulco, other property and a brand-new Ferrari. While this is an interesting story, seeing this from the point of view of the wife, my pity was tempered by the fact that she stuck it out, with all the golden trappings, to the end.

Publishing history

First published by Océano in 1985
First published in English in 1989 by Viking
Translated by Ann Wright (Mexican Bolero)
Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (Tear This Heart Out)