18 JUNE 1948, Page 22

Rural Mexico

Village in the Sun. By Dane Chandos. (Michael Joseph. 10s. 6d.)

ELEVEN years ago, I found two young Englishmen living at Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala in Mexico. One of them was Nigel Stansbury-Millett, who had already written Frolic Wind under the nom de plume of Richard Oke. It was the rainy season, and as they told me of their village over lunch on the Jeranda, great thunder- clouds built themselves up over the mountains and were reflected in the opaque and opalescent waters of the lake. Stansbury-Millett clearly knew his village and his villagers remarkably well. Some time during the war I heard that he had died in Mexico City. It is therefore with a melancholy pleasure that I recognise him under the pseudonym of Dane Chandos, and have read his tribute to the " village in the sun " where for some years he made his home. Village in the Sun confirms Stansbury-Millett's peculiar qualities —a sensitive appreciation of the beauty of the place and an affec- tionate understanding of its inhabitants. In a few swift, but com- pelling, lines he paints in the background :

" The village lies on the narrow strip of land left between the mountains and the lake. . . . The hills, bare of all but brush, seem to plunge their feet into foliage—thick, tufty branches of mango, sharp green plumes of banana, glossy leaves of orange and grapefruit and tangerine, the discreet dull green of avocado, the feathery boughs of flamboyant or jacaranda. Above this billowing green rise a few palms and the church tower, new-painted and looking like a cake."

It is useless for the author to protest that " this is not a book about Mexico. It is a book about Ajijic." In painting a picture of Ajijic, of the people who live there and the things that happen there, he has penetrated to the very heart of Mexico. Dane Chandos brings his own familiars most vividly to life—the cook Candelaria who " seemed to delight in piling up obstacles and then making an enormous fuss surmounting them and then with a pleased tired smile viewing her achievement " ; Cayetano, the house-boy, ingenuous, vain, with unlimited good nature and good will ; the shy Nieves ; Remedios, Candelaria's mother, half-blind with cataract, who found Ajijic too dull after the bustle of Jiquilpan's mainstreet ; Tiburcio the wise-woman, fat and frisky ; Aurora, the washerwoman, who took so masochistic a delight in her own tribu- lations ; and Bernabe, the master-mason, whose ponderous style of speech incorporated an extra syllable or two into every pompous word. Together they provide a more faithful cross-section of rural Mexico than any sociological report loaded with statistics. The author notes their apparent improvidence, their lack of suite dans les idies, their stoical endurance and allergy to rapid reform, their difficulty in learning more than one thing at a time and in absorbing anything outside their previous range of experience, but defends them against charges of fecklessness or stupidity. He seeks not to condemn. Rather he analyses, discerns, sympathises, appreciating that the Indian outlook differs from the white man's in kind rather than in degree. Their contemplative outlook is reflected in Primitivo's remark about a foreigner : "He was like us, he did not have to be doing something all the time. He knew how to sit still."

Above all, Dane Chandos appreciates the tragic transience of human affairs in a country geologically new, where human life has not yet created secure conditions for itself.

"An adobe house," he writes, "is part of the earth, an extension of the earth. If you leave a house roofless and unplastered it will gradually dissolve and return into the earth. As easily, the brown Indio people are born and die. It is as if the people, too, were merely an extension of the fertile earth."

Here " dust to dust " has a peculiar significance. So he comes to 4 find in the Indians that final human denominator which, despite all differences, links them with us. In the fisher family whom he watched crouched round a fire outside a but of bamboo and bananas, " sitting still and rapt and serene, all in tiger colours, even the leaf walls leaping tawny," he sees " the family that was any family and all families, that was youth and quiet and intimacy and had nothing at all to do with crazy slogans and huge drunken numbers" This