Repost – Great for wintertime reading: I read The Milagro Beanfield War 29 years ago when I was pregnant with Zachary. I was living in West Texas missing my old life in New Mexico, trying not to be totally bewildered at my new role as someone’s wife. Deborah, my friend from college, sent the book to me as a wedding gift – one of the most unique gifts I’ve ever received. It came in a box with seven other books and a note that said, “These are the best books I’ve read this year – and now they’re your’s. Congratulations.”
Great gift. Especially considering that I knew nothing about cooking or cleaning house. I definitely knew how to read. And The Milagro Beanfield War was at the top of the stack, so I dug in. And then laughed myself silly for the week that it took me to finish it. I’m now on my third copy – the first two had to be replaced because they were so worn out.
John Nichols wrote The Milagro Beanfield War about the water rights conflict in the Taos Ski Basin, according to my friend Marilyn Koch who wrote her Western History master’s thesis on both the fights and the subsequent novel and movie. Nichols wrote the book as part of his New Mexico trilogy (the other books are The Magic Journey and Nirvana Blues), which Wikipedia describes as “a series about the complex relationship between history, race and ethnicity, and land and water rights in the fictional Chamisaville County, New Mexico.”
Wikipedia’s right – those are complex relationships. But Nichols really outdid himself depicting them inThe Milagro Beanfield War. The natives (primarily Hispanic) are hard-working farmers and laborers; the bad guys are white guys with lots of money and influence in the NM Governor’s office. It’s an old story in New Mexico – the oppressors against the oppressed. But Nichols tells it with great humor and compassion and in a way that’s surprisingly fun.
I can’t tell you what happens in the end without giving it away. And I can’t tell you to rent the movie instead of reading the book. The movie was fine – the scenery was great and the musical score was haunting beautiful. But the book. . .ahhhh, the book. It is amazing. It couldn’t have been written about any place but New Mexico.
One day, a highly frustrated and out of work Joe Mondragon slams on the brakes in his worn-out pickup truck, walks out into his father’s beanfield, and opens the valve that will dump water from the acequia into the field. Never mind that the water has been declared off limits by the government via the bad guys, who plan to use it for development. Joe’s pissed, and his actions set off a mini-class war that, while it has the potential for tragedy, makes for damn funny reading. Tears-in-your-eyes funny.In addition to Joe, there’s a cast of characters who will all worm their way into your heart – you’ll be sad to leave them at the end. There’s Amarante Cordova, who’s been supposedly sick and dying since birth, only to outlive many of his own children; there’s one-armed Onofre Martinez, who claims that he lost his appendage to a butterfly, and whose phantom arm plays all sort of pranks on Onofre’s friends and enemies alike; there’s Horsethief Shorty, the foreman at the Dancing Trout ranch and crony to the main villain Ladd Devine III; and there’s a whole assortment of special agents, water rights lawyers, body shop and plumbing shop owners, angels and car thieving rock-throwing senile grandmothers.