Summary and book reviews of El Paso by Winston Groom

El Paso

by Winston Groom

El Paso by Winston Groom X
El Paso by Winston Groom
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Book Summary

Three decades after the first publication of Forrest Gump, and seventeen years since his last novel, Winston Groom returns to fiction with this sweeping American epic.

Long fascinated with the Mexican Revolution and the vicious border wars of the early twentieth century, best-selling author Winston Groom brings to life a much-forgotten period of history in this episodic saga set in six parts. Pitting the legendary Pancho Villa against "the Colonel," a thrill-seeking Bostonian railroad tycoon whose fading fortune is tied up in a colossal ranch in Chihuahua, El Paso opens during a time of dramatic upheaval in Mexico - its government being squeezed on one end by Villa's revolutionaries and on the other by "filthy" American capitalists.

Content to observe the war from aboard his dazzling yacht, the Ajax, the Colonel is suddenly pulled into this drama when his famous Valle del Sol ranch is raided for nearly "two million and a half dollars in beef on the hoof." Oblivious to the realities of war and hoping to salvage his losses, the Colonel whisks his family down to Mexico where they make a disturbing discovery: it was Villa who not only stole the cattle but also murdered their beloved ranch manager. Even worse, Villa's henchmen abduct the Colonel's grandchildren in another daring raid only days later.

Frantic, the aging patriarch and his adopted son race to El Paso, hoping to gather a group of cowboys brave enough to hunt down the generalissimo on his own turf. As the desperate Yankees quickly learn once they return to Chihuahua, their deep pockets and political clout mean next to nothing in a crumbling nation rife with communist sympathizers. After weeks of searching and with no trace of Villa, the Colonel fears all is lost?that is, until a twist of fate unites his party with that of Johnny Ollas, an aspiring matador whose wife has also been kidnapped by the marauding revolutionaries. Bloodied and battered, the two factions unite, galloping off on an extraordinary manhunt through some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth: the vast and snake-ridden Sierra Madre.

The novel explodes into an epic as an extraordinary cast of characters from both history and imagination begin to emerge, all vying to get their hands on the ever-elusive Villa. But no matter what prize each player ultimately seeks, no one is left unscathed in this sprawling story of heroism, injustice, and love. Replete with shootouts, daring escapes, and an unforgettable bullfight, El Paso brings to life a crucial moment in history and, in the process, becomes an indelible portrait of the American Southwest in the final days of the wild frontier.

Preface

Novels don't usually need forewords but in this case it seems useful that the reader know the background of the events depicted herein.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century the Mexican government— in eternal social and financial turmoil—started selling off vast tracts of land in its desolate northern provinces on the notion that wealthy American entrepreneurs would exploit the land by building infrastructure that the government in Mexico City could not afford. Accordingly, the Guggenheims began to develop large mining operations in Northern Mexico, Harrimans built railroads, Morgans, Hearsts, and Whitneys developed enormous livestock ranches, and so on, employing thousands of Mexican citizens until, inevitably, the revolution moved northward.

the gist of this story—the kidnapping of children by the legendary revolutionary general Pancho Villa, and the manhunt through the Sierra Madre— was suggested to me by a dear friend, the late Edwin "Eddie" ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When we meet Arthur Shaughnessy, he receives a telegram from his father stating, "See if you can handle it"; when we first meet Pancho Villa, he is musing on the night he witnessed Halley's Comet - a sighting he interpreted as a bad omen. How did these first impressions set the tone for your reading? What did you anticipate?
  2. Consider the significance of place: the juxtaposition between cities and countries, the vast landscapes, the wildlife, the extreme weather. How does the setting speak to the greater themes of the novel?
  3. The Shaughnessy men make a game out of racing to Mexico, the Colonel by train and Arthur by plane. Later in the novel, they find themselves in a very different race to save the children. What does this ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Cinematic, sprawling, and exploding with (occasionally brutal) action and color, El Paso will probably lasso in many lovers of the genre who will delight in Groom’s meticulously narrated story...continued

Full Review (845 words).

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(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Media Reviews

Clarion-Ledger
El Paso is sure to entertain. . . . To Groom, the public is likely to say, ‘Welcome back to the land of fiction.’

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Winston Groom proves life — and fiction — really is like a delicious box of chocolates. . . . The novel has it all — heroes, villains, family, rescues, shootouts, cattle, bits of history and much more. And maybe a feature film in its future?

Publishers Weekly
Battles, a tense prisoner exchange, and clever ransom negotiations round out this historically vivid and marvelously complex tale.

Kirkus Reviews
It's not Lonesome Dove, but Groom's Searcher's-like rescue pursuit and his allusive homage to Treasure of the Sierra Madre make for an entertaining Western story.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Groom's epic narrative is a hefty yet entertaining page-turner, at times funny, heartbreaking, emotional, and brutal. An involving, intricate story vividly told.

Booklist
Starred Review. This is the big one that fans have been waiting for, and they'll grab it up like they would a delicious box of chocolates

Reader Reviews

Tom

A glimpse into our history
The book cover gives you a hint of what might be if you are willing to commit to its story line and close your eyes and travel. I did just that and I awakened to be face to face with the infamous Pancho Villa. The rugged mountains of Mexico and the ...   Read More
dpfaef

Love the book cover
I have to say I love the cover for this book. It really draws you in, I could hardly wait to listen to this book. Expecting the second coming of Edna Ferber’s Giant I settled in for a good listen. Take a fading railroad tycoon from Boston, an ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Quick Tour of the Mexican Revolution

Pancho VillaMost of El Paso is set toward the tail end of the Mexican Revolution, which played out between 1910-1920. One of its primary players, General Pancho Villa, is a principal character in the novel.

The Mexican Revolution got its start during the rule of Porfirio Diaz, a dictator who perpetuated a feudal system in the country with just a few wealthy oligarchs owning and operating much of Mexico's assets and the rest toiling away for crumbs. At one point, in 1908, it seemed like Diaz softened his stance and suggested he might be open to the country's democratization. Seeing a chance, Francisco Madero jumped at the opportunity and decided to contest the dictatorship. A mock "election" was held after which Diaz declared himself the ...

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