Ask A Bookseller: ‘The Bullet Swallower’

Ask a Bookseller Podcast

Kara Thom of Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior recommends a multi-generational novel, “The Bullet Swallower” by Elizabeth Gonzalez James. It’s a classic western with a dose of magical realism, and it’s drawn comparisons with works by Cormac McCarthy and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Ask A Bookseller - 'The Bullet Swallower'
"The Bullet Swallower" by Elizabeth Gonzalez James.
Simon & Schuster

Set along both sides of the Texas-Mexico border, the story moves back and forth between two timelines, several generations apart.

In 1895, Antonio Sonoro knows he comes from a long line of ruthless men. He feels that violence is in his blood and, lacking options, is soon swept up in a train robbery that goes terribly wrong.

He earns the nickname “The Bullet Swallower” when he receives an injury that should have killed him.

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In 1964, Antonio’s grandson Jaime Sonoro lives a very different life as an actor and singer in Mexico City. Linking the two men — in addition to blood — is Remedio.

Here enters the magical realism, for Romelo is a sort of dark angel, though he is constantly questioning what he’s doing and why.

Romelo allows Antonio to live in the opening chapter, but as he follows the family, the question arises: How long should children have to pay for the sins of their fathers?

Adding to the intrigue of that question is the fact that the author based the novel loosely on her own great-grandfather.

Thom, who grew up near the Texas-Mexico border before moving to Minnesota, said she appreciates the complexity with which this book paints life at the border.

She points to a passage by the character who cares for a wounded Antonio: “It’s the strangest thing. I was born in New Spain, which then became Mexico, then the Republic of Texas, and then I wound up in the United States. And meanwhile, my house has always stood in the same place. The Texans call me Mexican. And I’ve never crossed the Rio Grande.”