Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pedro Martínez: A Mexican Peasant and his Family

Lewis, Oscar, Pedro Martínez: a Mexican peasant and his family, New York: Random House, 1964.

Reviewed by Carlos Fuentes.

Excerpt from the inner sleeve:
Pedro Martínez is a Mexican peasant, now over seventy. This is the story of his life and of the lives of his wife and children, told in his own words and, from time to time, in theirs. Like Professor Lewis’ earlier book The Children of Sanchez, Pedro Martínez is at once an anthropological study of great force and subtlety and a literary masterpiece; a book in which the details and structure of the lives of peasants are accurately and minutely reported, but a book too in which these lives present themselves with the immediate reality of a work of art.

Oscar Lewis, an American anthropologist, was renowned for his studies of poverty in Mexico and Puerto Rico and for his controversial concept of "the culture of poverty." After graduating from Columbia University, where he studied under Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas, and Margaret Mead, his first major book, Life in a Mexican Village (1951), was a restudy of Robert Redfield's village of Tepoztlan, which reached a number of conclusions opposed to those reached by Redfield. Much of the controversy over the culture of poverty disappeared when Lewis labeled it a subculture; ironically, reactionaries have used the concept to blame the poor for their poverty, whereas Lewis believed the poor to be victims. Many of his books are based on tape recordings of family members, a technique in which Lewis was a pioneer.

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