Reviews of My Two Novels

Playing for Pancho Villa:

BLURBS

“Sterling Bennett is a beguiling and gifted writer, a virtuoso who intrigues and fascinates, like a poet whose work suggests more than can be fully grasped or absorbed in a single sitting, or a single reading. The world he evokes is a strange and sometimes enchanting place, but also dark, bewildering, even unfathomable. Where one cannot easily walk away from this writer, where he is clearly a considerable talent.” — Fred Hills, retired editor (Raymond Carver, William Saroyan, Heinrich Böll, Vladimir Nabokov)

“Sterling Bennett has lived in Mexico long enough, and has listened to the rhythms of Mexican life closely enough to capture the pulse and the color of old Mexico in his new novel Playing for Pancho Villa. Weaving historical figures and fictional characters into a bittersweet tale of love and adventure, Bennett has created an epic that can be read and appreciated by Americans of any nationality, and whichever side of the border they happen to live and work. Playing for Pancho Villa makes a perfect gift for Feliz Navidad or for any holiday or celebration. Villa himself might want it in his own Christmas stocking.” — Jonah Raskin, author of My Search for B. Traven & Professor Emeritus, Sonoma State University, California.

“Sterling Bennett, a long time resident of Mexico and aficionado of Mexican history, promises a double-barreled read with this novel that gallops south of the border and back in time.” — C.M. Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

“In our world of words – and images, and sounds – cheaply and abundantly deployed, Sterling Bennett’s acute, observant voice will quickly galvanize your attention and hold it. His haunting account of what happens to Frank, a wayfarer in Mexico, will draw you into a story you’ll not easily forget.” — Tony Cohan, author of On Mexican Time.

“I love Sterling Bennett’s prose. It’s as spare as the countryside of his Mexico and tough as its mesquite.” — Sam Quinones, author of True Tales from Another Mexico.

AMAZON.COM REVIEWS:

“Great first novel. I recently read Sterling Bennett’s Playing For Pancho Villa. What an enjoyable book! Having read many books about the Mexican Revolutions and the early 1900’s in Mexico in general, in my opinion, Sterling completely captured the times in his story. The deserts, the people, the war that Frank ‘stumbles’ into all were so believable. Fascinating and amazing times! I’d recommend this book (and have!) to anyone. No need for any ‘back ground’ knowledge about Mexico or it’s revolution to enjoy this book! Just a great story!”

“Great first novel. Five stars. A great story told in a forceful and direct manner set in a dramatic and tragic period of Mexican history. There is enough ambiguity and allusion to challenge the reader but the dramatic flow of events is never impeded. For those unfamiliar with recent Mexican history, a brief review will help understand the various references to places, events and individuals. Having followed Sterling on his Facebook page, reading his observations on life in his immediate neighborhood in Guanajuato, and knowing Guanajuato, the neighborhood and Sterling, I could predict that his novel would be impressive. I wasn’t disappointed. Click on the available sample pages at the Amazon site for Playing for Pancho Villa and you will see yourself what kind of a writer Sterling Bennett is. He knows how to tell it straight, almost journalistically, full of precise and sometimes unexpected details. No superfluity of language here, I was kept absorbed. He has set his story in an historical period without being pedantic; the allusions to the various factions in the revolution and their brutality fit into the texture of Frank’s journey, not only to Mexico, but into his very soul.”

“An evocative tale of old Mexico. This is a beautifully written story that brings to life the country the author obviously cares for deeply. Very interestingly drawn characters interact on a carefully drawn stage. I really enjoyed this book.”

“The Mexican Revolution from the inside out. This novel takes the reader into the heart and sinew of the Mexican Revolution during 1916 in the state of Chihuahua. Swinging between the poles of tenderness and violence, Bennett writes with a modern sensibility that infuses his detailed knowledge of many aspects of warfare and life in the countryside. Holding it all together is the main character, a young ‘American’ in Mexico for his health who becomes not only older but sadder by the time he leaves. Plenty of action, only a couple of glimpses of Pancho Villa, and an astonishing final scene that will linger. Available in print and Kindle editions.”

“This Is a Great Read! This is a great story. It immerses you in a very particular time and place: it’s the Mexican state of Chihuahua during the Mexican Revolution. Three forces are at war: the Mexican Army under Carranza vs. Pancho Villa vs. the US Army under Pershing. It was a chaotic, violent, miserable time – but Bennett’s story reveals moments of tenderness, affection, love, loyalty and decency in the midst of it all. The telling is spare. The characters are memorable. The plot moves well. The details ring true. This is a great read … and I can’t wait for Bennett’s next novel to come out.”

“A Captivating Story. I just finished reading Sterling Bennett’s Playing for Pancho Villa and loved every moment. I am in awe of his writing and especially his storytelling. I was pleasantly held captive through to the end.”

“I enjoyed this book. The story is interesting and so are the characters. Being only 197 pages it moves quickly and never bogs down. The main character reminds me a little of myself hanging around Juarez back in the 1970s. I wish he’d write a sequel. I would definitely read it.”

“Sterling Bennett’s Hemingwayesque account of life love and death, sex and pathos, in the turbulence of the Mexican revolution pulls the reader from an armchair into adventure and the frisson of random risks where life is cheap and hangs by a thread, raw emotions guns and booze are ubiquitous, and the inner reaches of the reader’s mind are thoroughly stirred. A novel not to be missed.”

D.H. Lawrence once wrote that to most people visiting Mexico, the country represents only optic memories: the roadside cantina, the jacaranda, the little courtyard, miles of high desert cactus, mangy dogs, smiling women, drunks, etc. In short, Mexico, to the non-Mexican, is forever defined by the saved images of our specific experience and journey. Sterling Bennett has used this idea as a starting point in Playing for Pancho Villa and magnified it a million times over. From the first page we are treated to a non-stop flow of detailed images that together paint a mural of Mexico that towers in the mind’s eye as any you will find in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It is as if Odysseus had taken a digital camera on his journey. You will come to understand the importance of a thrown rock, sweat, a glance, silence, shadows, moonlight, beans, a past, a future, a battle, the warmth of a horse, a lover–everything is part of the mix of causation that drives this book. Surely this is Mexico and it is life at its fullest. We are all linked and everything of substance disturbs Playing for Pancho Villa. At the heart of Mr. Bennett’s style and story are the profound musings of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (for me anyway). End results are mysteries to be contemplated. How much god, how much ego, how much luck, how much star dust, and what of mistakes? A battle can be fought down the street while people move toward their own fate that will be dependent upon a smile more than a treaty between nations. In many ways, Playing for Pancho Villa is part of a long literary history of efforts to portray the essence of Mexico, but on another level, it is a well-plotted, controlled, and impressive attempt to define what humans are upon this earth. I had a warm feeling up my spine when I finished this book. I can give no higher praise as I pass my days here in Mexico, living, as best I can, for the end.

OTHER RESPONSES:

~”What a terrific book! I loved ‘Playing for Pancho Villa’. But now, I am sad to have just come to the last words and have you no where in sight to hug with congratulations, talk to, to ask questions. I am completely in awe of all you’ve accomplished on every level with this perfect novel. With great admiration.”

~”I finished your book and, wow, that WAS a mighty good yarn! Trouble is, I am now suffering from withdrawal symptoms! Already I feel a certain impatience coming on as I wait for novel number two. Go for it!”

~ I’m on Rock Island. I read your first novel. All 200 pages. It’s a magnificent piece of work. Finished it by flashlight on the beach in the moonlight.

~”BTW, I read Playing for Pancho Villa. The ending actually caught me by surprise – such tight plotting. The writing had the sparseness and emotional availability of Hemingway, but in a ‘western.’ ”

~”I just received an unusual inquiry from a major reviewer of your book. He asks, ‘Was there ever a Frank Holloway and a hoard of letters and notes discovered in an old trunk (this is certainly an ancient and still good story telling device)? I assume no, and that the fact I ask the question is testimony to the skill with which Sterling Bennett sets us up to ‘believe in’ the story.¨

~”Thanks for this beautiful book that I finished minutes ago, after sipping and nibbling and nursing it in irregular fashion since I began the first page on January ( ). It is a very loving book, very respectful, very intelligent, in full awareness of the sweetness and awfulness of the world, told by the heart through all the senses, gently guided by the mind which sets the context but is never intrusive. I’ll have to sleep on it and let it settle in my mind. But any critical faculties I may have are laid to rest, so that the main wisdom behind the various characters and the twists of plot may come in and settle down and make itself at home.¨

~”By the way, I read Playing For Pancho Villa a few months ago. It gave me confidence in the press. It was a great book. Emotionally resonant. A smart, clean read, that lingers….”

~”Finally read that wonderful book of yours
remarkable lad indeed and the thoughtful detail
leading you in… loved it.”

~”Playing for Pancho Villa is an enjoyable book set during the Mexican Revolution. American author, Sterling Bennett, has clearly researched Mexico very deeply to produce this exciting novel bringing to life the war between the Mexican Army under Carranza, Pancho Villa’s division and the US Army under Pershing. Bennett, who lives in Mexico and has done for many years brings together his observations of the country to provide a haunting account of one man’s adventure to another culture, another world. Frank Holloway, the book’s main character, is brought to life in Chihuahua in northern Mexico, brought on by his desire to get some relief from mercury poisoning. We meet Mr. Wu, Juan Carlos the young doctor and Doña Mariana who are brought together by love and fear as the group travel the state, hiding from enemies and exalting in each others’ company. At times, the author exoticises Mexico somewhat in chaos and violence, however the world he brings to life is so haunting, it captures the reader’s attention and will hold you until the end. Support the author and Editorial Mazatlan and buy this book today!”

~All the way through the book, of course…I kept  marveling at the extremely Greek way in which every single action eventually had its dire effect, right down to the – accidental?  I couldn’t quite be sure – final fatal firing of the Winchester.  The book moved me tremendously and increasingly as I came closer and closer to the characters and events, and your own intimate knowledge of the country and culture and history (and details of food and language) seem so natural as you make use of them.  In sum, admiring congratulations, many times over.

Comandante Ibarra:

Blurbs:

“In this remarkable story of a violent and ruthless multiculturalism in the Mexican state of Sonora in 1900—a struggle marred by blood and gunpowder, all sides in the conflict must undergo a redefinition of themselves. Yaqui mine workers, dispossessed Yaqui farmers, Yaqui warriors in territorial defense, Yaqui prisoners in extermination camps, and a non-Yaqui National Rural Policeman are bound by ties both tangible and metaphorical in a perpetually revolving loop.” – Raquel Padilla Ramos, Research Professor, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Author of Los Irredentos Parias

“Sterling Bennett, that virtuoso storyteller, has returned in print with yet another riveting tale set in Mexico, this time told by a rural policeman named Miguel Angel Ibarra. To describe Comandante Ibarra as a murder mystery might be fair and accurate, but it only begins to capture a part of a masterful novel that investigates modern Mexican history and uncovers crimes almost too brutal and shocking for the human imagination to fathom. Like Bennett’s early novel, Playing for Pancho Villa, his new narrative looks at the past in order to better understand the present. Told in spare prose with poetic as well as mythical undertones, Comandante Ibarra offers the sweep of the epic. At the same time it explores the intricacies of the human heart. If you only read one novel about Mexico this year, read Sterling Bennett’s brave and bodacious fiction that creates its own very sad and very funny world from the bare bones and the sacred souls of Yaquis themselves.” – Jonah Raskin, author of American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation; My Search for B. Traven; A Terrible Beauty: The Wilderness of American Literature.

“Delivered in lean, exacting prose and deploying a sharply curated palette of historical detail, Sterling Bennett’s tale of a rural policeman in 1900 Mexico, torn between the wretched conditions he encounters among indigenous Yaqui miners and the forces that oppress them, eerily foreshadows conflicts and dilemmas that persist into our times.” – Tony Cohan, author of On Mexican Time, Native State, and The Bats.

“Sterling Bennett knows Mexico and its history. With heart and grit he plunges back over a century into one of the most horrific episodes in Mexican history, the assault against the Yaquis in the state of Sonora.” – C.M. Mayo, author of Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution; The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire; Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion.

Readers’ Reactions to Comandante Ibarra:

– In this, his second novel, Sterling Bennett appears to have perfected his commanding style of writing — direct and hard hitting yet fully expressive of humor and tenderness — again matched to the form of a masterful historical novel. Written in the first person singular, Bennett’s book enables us to inhabit the mind of a man of courage, moved by his sense of justice, to take up the cudgels of his plain rank against the oppression which drove the Yaqui Wars over 400 years of Mexican history. For me, this book is satisfying, as well as challenging, at many levels all at once. And for one who knows little about our southern neighbor, this is a book which excites me to learn much more. Camandante Ibarra is signal achievement.

– The writer skillfully informs us of a time and place in Mexican history through the eyes of a Rural policeman who is moved to rethink his mission.
This humane, intelligent book is filled with both suspense and compassion for humanity. HIghly recommend.

– An exciting and well done book. The historical treatment is especially well done.

– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez in this detective story set in a time of love and war. Sterling Bennett has written an epic of the Americas with good guys, bad guys, Indians, outlaws and lawmen all chasing one another across a landscape of blood, bullets and betrayal. The narrator and main character, Comandante Ibarra — a kind of Mexican Sherlock Holmes — defends the young and the outcast, fights evil and lives to see another day. Mixing suspense with humor, the novel has a rich cast of characters: brave women as well as courageous men and dastardly villains who get their comeuppance. Bennett’s book might make you cry; it also might make you laugh. Then, too, it will take you on a wild ride familiar to moviegoers who enjoy Clint Eastwood in “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” and “For a Few Dollars More.” The pacing is superb, the chapters are short and to the point and the action is described in a way that the reader can see and hear what’s happening. “Commandante Ibarra” invites one and all to gather clues, sort through the evidence and solve the mysteries that unfold. A good book to take on an airplane, to the beach, or to enjoy in a comfortable armchair and live a life of adventure vicariously. Whether you’re 18, 81 or somewhere in between you’ll meet a writer who deserves to be known and appreciated from Boston to Austin to Mexico City. Bravo!

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