The Beginning of His Excellent and Eventful Career

Written by Cameron MacKenzie
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Francisco “Pancho” Villa describes the underpinnings of the Mexican Revolution and how he came to be involved in it.

Readers first learn about the summer of 1894, when 16-year-old Villa flees from his family home after killing the owner of the fields he worked because the don had been propositioning his young sister. Villa describes his next dozen years on the run as bandit, cattle rustler, and killer, his inability to make a living as a butcher in the city of Parral because of onerous fees charged by the owner of the slaughterhouse, and his life as a beggar, horse thief, and vagrant. Villa comes to the Mexican rebellion when cattle rancher Señor Gónzalez encourages him to become one of the few—“the few who refuse the world as it is.”

Written as Villa’s recollections, the language is lyrical, almost musical as it composes vivid pictures of characters and settings, and complex as the writer moves from the reality of the moment to a more transcendental view of time and place.

Shocking moments of brutality and cruelty exist alongside philosophical explorations of fate, war, and peace. Conflict between rebel leaders reveals selfish personal and political motives. The narrative makes no apologies for Villa; he is quick to exploit, rape, and kill. It observes that revolution comes less from the mind of one or more men but as the course of things and the will of the people.

This is not an easy read; the story trajectory is sometimes confusing, and sentences convoluted. It is nevertheless worth the effort. The Beginning of His Excellent & Eventful Career is an exceptional debut novel.