The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution [NOOK Book]


In the early years of the twentieth century, with revolution sweeping the Mexican countryside, Demetrio Macias, a poor, illiterate Indian, is forced to join the rebels in order to save his family. His courage and charisma earn him important friends - and a generalship in the army of the legendary Pancho Villa - but in the face of mounting defeats and increasing factionalism, Demetrio begins to feel estranged from the cause, coming up against a crisis of resolve he hoped he would...
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The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution

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In the early years of the twentieth century, with revolution sweeping the Mexican countryside, Demetrio Macias, a poor, illiterate Indian, is forced to join the rebels in order to save his family. His courage and charisma earn him important friends - and a generalship in the army of the legendary Pancho Villa - but in the face of mounting defeats and increasing factionalism, Demetrio begins to feel estranged from the cause, coming up against a crisis of resolve he hoped he would never have to confront.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First published in 1915, Azuela's groundbreaking novel about a Mexican peasant who becomes a revolutionary leader is now being issued in a revised translation with a set of illuminating footnotes (notes and revisions by Beth E. Jurgensen). Demetrio Macias is the protagonist who joins the rebels in their efforts to overthrow Mexico's corrupt dictator, Porfirio Diaz, and Macias's brash approach to military tactics speeds his rise through the ranks. His background is articulated by journalist Luis Cervantes, who abandons the government to aid the rebels as he provides background on Macias in the early chapters. While the new general's forces engage in a series of hit-and-run battles with Federal troops, Azuela adds two romantic subplots, one about a difficult young woman named Pintada, who bonds with one of the other generals in the company; the other involves Camilla, a peasant girl who expresses her ardor for Cervantes early on, but ends up falling for Macias. The battle scenes are stirring, if somewhat underdeveloped, and Azuela highlights the conflict with a cameo appearance by Pancho Villa as the tide begins to turn against the rebels. Overall, the story is too incomplete to be labeled a classic by modern standards. What makes the book memorable is its portrayal of Macias as an archetype of Mexico's national character, as the peasant expresses his ongoing love for the process and pageantry of the revolution. The translation feels awkward, but Jurgensen's footnotes and the introduction (by Ilan Stavans) add colorful details and definitions while filling in some narrative and historical gaps. (Sept.)
Nima Nabipour
"First in this country, the Underdogs should always have a special place, for it describes the aspirations of a native people. At the college level, Fornosx's text offers plenty of material for the Historian and the Professor of Internatonal Literature. But the book can also be enjoyed at a simpler level. It is essentially a compelling tale of human conflicts, grippingly told." -- Studies In Short Fiction
From the Publisher

“Mariano Azuela, more than any other novelist of the Mexican Revolution, lifts the heavy stone of history to see what there is underneath it.”—Carlos Fuentes

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781420900743
  • Publisher: Neeland Media LLC
  • Publication date: 1/1/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,355,542
  • File size: 942 KB

Meet the Author

Mariano Azuela (1873—1952) studied medicine in Guadalajara and served during the revolution as a doctor with the forces of Pancho Villa, which gave him firsthand exposure to the events and characters that appear in The Underdogs. Sergio Waisman is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Award and is an assistant professor of Spanish at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Carlos Fuentes is the author of more than twenty books and the recipient of many awards, including Mexico's National Prize in Literature, the Cervantes Prize, and the inaugural Latin Civilization Award. He lives in Mexico City and London.
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Read an Excerpt


"That's no animal, I tell you! . . . Listen to Palomo barking! It must be a human being.”

The woman stared into the darkness of the sierra.

"What if they're Federals?," said a man who sat squatting and eating, a coarse earthenware plate in his right hand, three folded tortillas in the other.

The woman made no answer; all her senses were directed outside the hut.

The beat of horses' hoofs rang in the quarry nearby. Palomo barked again, louder and more angrily.

"Well, Demetrio, I think you had better hide, all the same."

Stolidly, the man finished eating; he reached for a water jug and gulped down the water in it. Then he stood up.

"Your rifle is under the mat," she whispered.

A tallow candle illumined the small room. In one corner stood a plow, a yoke, a goad, and other agricultural implements. An old adobe mold hung by ropes from the roof and served as a bed; on it a child slept, covered with rags.

Demetrio buckled his cartridge belt about his waist and picked up his rifle. Tall and well built, with a sanguine, beardless face, he wore shirt and trousers of white cloth, a broad-brimmed straw hat, and leather sandals.

With slow, measured step, he left the room, vanishing into the impenetrable darkness of the night.

Palomo, excited to the point of fury, had jumped over the corral fence. Suddenly a shot rang out. The dog moaned, then barked no more.

Men on horseback rode up, shouting and swearing. Two of them dismounted, while the other hung back to watch the horses.

"Hey, there, woman, we want food! Eggs, milk, beans, anything you'vegot! We're starving!"

"Damned sierra! It would take the Devil himself not to lose his way!"

"Sergeant, even the Devil would go astray if he were as drunk as you are."

One of them wore chevrons on his shoulders, the other red stripes on his sleeves.

"Whose place is this, old woman? . . . What the . . . Isn't anybody home?"

"What about that light and that child there? Look here, woman, we want to eat, and damn quick, too! Are you coming out, or are we going to make you?"

"You swine! You've gone and killed my dog! What harm did he ever do you? What did you have against him, poor little Palomo!"

The woman reentered the house, dragging the dog behind her, very white and fat, with lifeless eyes and limp body.

"Look at those cheeks, Sergeant! Don't get riled, light of my life: I swear I'll turn your home into a dovecote, see? But by God!"

"Don't look so haughty, dear, Banish all fear Look at me lovingly Light of my eyes."

The officer finished singing in his tipsy voice.

"Tell me what they call this ranch, woman?" the sergeant asked.

"Lima," the woman replied curtly, carrying wood to the fire and fanning the coals.

"So we're in Lima, eh, the famous Demetrio Macases country, eh? . . . Do you hear that, Lieutenant? We're in Lima."

"Lima? What the hell do I care? If I'm bound for hell, Sergeant, I might as well go there now . . . now that I have such a good mount. Look at the cheeks on that darling, look at them! There's a pair of ripe red apples for a fellow to bite into!"

"I'll wager you know that bandit, lady. . . . I was in the pen with him at Escobedo."

"Bring me a bottle of tequila, Sergeant; I've decided to spend the night with this little brunette. . . . What's that? The colonel? . . . Why talk about the colonel now? He can go straight to hell. And if he doesn't like it, it's all right with me. Come on, Sergeant, tell the corporal outside to unsaddle the horses and feed them. I'll stay here. Listen, my girl, you let the sergeant fry the eggs and warm up the tortillas; you come here to me. See this wallet full of nice new bills? They're all for you, darling. Sure, I want you to have them. Imagine! I'm drunk, see, a little, and that's why I'm kind of hoarse. . . . I left half my gullet down Guadalajara way, and I've been spitting the other half out all the way up here. Oh, well, who cares? But I want you to have that money. Hey, Sergeant, where's my bottle? Darling, you're awfully far away. Come closer and pour yourself a drink. You won't, eh? Afraid of your . . . er . . . husband . . . or whatever he is? Well, if he's skulking in some hole, you tell him to come out. What the hell do I care? I'm not scared of rats, see!"

Suddenly a white shadow loomed on the dark threshold.

Copyright 2002 by Mariano Azuela; Translated by E. Munguia, Jr., revised by Beth E. Jorgensen; Introduction by Ilan Stavans
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Reading Group Guide


It begins in fire. On a dark night in the Mexican Sierra, an undisciplined band of Federales fighting for the despised dictator Victoriano Huerta descend upon the rancho of Demetrio Macías, who has already won a reputation for courage in the skirmishes of the Mexican Revolution. Although Macías initially drives the intruders away, they return, setting his home ablaze and setting in motion the taut, violent drama of The Underdogs, the most celebrated novel of the Mexican Revolution and the signature work of doctor, novelist, and revolutionary Mariano Azuela.

A brilliant marksman and a popular leader, Macías assumes command of a band of disaffected peasants and shapes them into a potent guerrilla fighting force. Despite their poor equipment and inferior numbers, Macías’s men win a series of convincing victories over the hated Federales. Soon the band absorbs an unlikely ally in the person of Luis Cervantes, a city aristocrat, or curro, whose disgust with the injustice of his country’s society has led him to embrace the growing Mexican Revolution. Cervantes, a well-read medical student, attempts to give the illiterate Macías an education in political idealism, and for a time they appear to share a vision of a new and better Mexico. However, the brutal realities of life at war gradually eat away at the ideals of the revolution, and the violence of Macías and his men becomes ever more difficult to restrain. The fiery idealism that has scorched the foundations of power now threatens to erupt into an inferno of anarchic rage, and the revolution that the common people had hailed as a blessing seems likely to transform into the blackest of curses.

In The Underdogs, Azuela drew heavily upon his own firsthand experiences as a doctor in the revolutionary army of Julián Medina, one of Pancho Villa’s generals. A dedicated foe of the privileged classes who dominated Mexico throughout his youth, Azuela had been stirred by the promise of radical political change that he saw in the Mexican revolution. Nevertheless,The Underdogs is neither a sentimental memoir nor a one-sided, political propagandistic tract. An uncompromising artist, Azuela eschewed such simplicity. Although the early chapters of his novel gleam with the idealism of a bold political cause, Azuela gradually blends darker tones into his literary palette. His revolutionaries begin to reveal themselves as men of ignorant brutality, and the more enlightened among them discover to their horror that they may be serving only to erect “an enormous pedestal upon which . . . monsters . . . might arise.” Narrated with passion, filled with arresting character sketches, and haunted by the specter of blighted dreams, The Underdogs is an outstanding work of artistic and political realism, both speaking to the greatest hopes of mankind and lending credence to our deepest fears.


Mariano Azuela was born into a grocer’s family in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico, on New Year’s Day, 1873. As a boy, during summers spent at a small farm owned by his father, he learned the slang and vocal rhythms of the common people—effects he was later to reproduce in his fiction. Although he enrolled in a Catholic seminary at fourteen, Azuela soon abandoned his religious studies and, after a brief period of indecision, became a medical student at the University of Guadalajara. After becoming a doctor in 1899, Azuela divided his energies between medical practice and writing. The 1908 publication of his novel Los Fracasados (The Failures) identified him as a novelist of promise.

In 1910, Azuela’s peaceful pursuits were disrupted when a revolutionary force under Francisco Madero overthrew the repressive dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. Azuela, who sided with the Maderistas, briefly served the Madero regime as chief of political affairs in Lagos de Moreno. However, in 1913, in the counterrevolution led by Victoriano Huerta, Madero was assassinated and Azuela joined the rebel forces of Pancho Villa. As the result of a series of experiences similar to those of Luis Cervantes, a character in The Underdogs, Azuela became head of the medical staff in the revolutionary army of General Julián Medina, who served as an inspiration for another character in The Underdogs, Demetrio Macías. Forced to immigrate to El Paso, Texas, Azuela settled there and reworked his memories of the revolution into a novel, Los de Abajo, known to English-speaking readers as The Underdogs. In 1917, Azuela moved to Mexico City, where he continued to write and practice medicine for the rest of his life.

Initially slow to win a popular following, The Underdogs captured international critical acclaim in the mid-1920s, establishing Azuela as the preeminent novelist of the Mexican Revolution. In 1942, Azuela was honored with Mexico’s national prize for literature, and, in 1949, he received the national prize for arts and sciences. He died in 1952.


  • In the first chapter of The Underdogs, Macías has a chance to kill the Federales who will soon after come back and destroy his house. However, he lets them go, and the only explanation he gives is that it was not the Federales’s time to die. What do this choice and this explanation show about Macías’s character? Do these traits remain consistent throughout the novel?
  • Some translators of The Underdogs have chosen to leave the nicknames of Macías’s men in their original Spanish. How does translator Sergio Waisman’s choice to translate the names, for instance, turning “el Manteca” into “Lard” and “Cordoniz” into “Quail,” affect the reading of the book? Do you prefer seeing the names translated or untranslated? Why?
  • Early in the novel, Macías and twenty of his followers fire two rounds at an ambushed group of Federales and, somewhat astonishingly, every single shot results in a deadly wound. Why do you think Azuela attributes such incredible accuracy to Macías and his men? Does his building up of their legend detract from the realism of the novel? Does Azuela overly idealize Macías and the revolution during Part One of the novel?
  • Although the captured curro Luis Cervantes promptly identifies himself as a medical student, several scenes pass before it occurs to anyone in Macías’s band that he might treat Macías’s gunshot wound. What accounts for this slow response, and what does it suggest about the social gap that separates the curro from the other men who fight alongside Macías?
  • After having lived among Macías’s men awhile, Cervantes States his belief that Macías has not yet understood the importance of his role in the revolution—what Cervantes calls Macías’ “true . . . high . . . most noble ambition.” What prevents Macías from seeing his mission as Cervantes sees it? How is the limitation of Macías’s vision emblematic of the shortcomings of the revolution?
  • Although The Underdogs contains a few significant female characters, it remains fundamentally a man’s novel. Does Azuela do enough to represent the position of women in Mexican society and in the revolution? What, if anything, would you have done differently to tell this aspect of the story?
  • Having been a doctor in Julián Medina’s army, which served Pancho Villa during the revolution, Mariano Azuela had much in common with his character Luis Cervantes. Do you think Azuela uses Cervantes to express points of view that were likely to have been similar to Azuela’s? When? How does Cervantes’s opinion of the revolution change as the novel develops?
  • Discuss the relationship between Macías and Cervantes. What do they gain from each other? Does each have something to teach that the other is incapable of learning? What, if anything, is lacking in their friendship?
  • It is a principal irony of The Underdogs that the revolutionaries who set out to rid their country of oppression and injustice end up adopting the corrupt values and practices of their enemies. Why does this happen? Does Azuela regard the betrayal of the revolution as inevitable, or does he see an alternative?
  • Imagine that you are directing a film version of The Underdogs. What scene would you find most interesting to dramatize, and why? How would you shoot the scene?
  • What do you think of Cervantes’s decision to leave the revolutionaries and immigrate to El Paso? Is he to be praised for abandoning a cause he could no longer morally support, or is he to be condemned for leaving his comrades in a desperate time?
  • Toward the end of The Underdogs, Macías and his men begin to encounter government forces armed with machine guns. What does the rise of modern warfare signify for men like Macías, and for the future of revolutionary uprisings in general?
  • In the next to last chapter of the novel, Macías tells his wife that, having started on a violent path, he can no more stop fighting in the revolution than a pebble tossed into a canyon can stop falling. What are the qualities of this image that make it effective and memorable? Do you think Macías is right?
  • At the end of the novel, as Macías boldly defends himself in a last desperate battle, it seems likely that he will be killed at any moment. However, instead of narrating Macías’s death, Azuela leaves the reader with the image of him still fighting. What is the effect of this choice on the way the reader finally perceives Azuela’s hero and the revolution for which he fights?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2008

    A reviewer

    this book has a good thing goin for it but many key parts of it are missing and are ungood. the charictors seemed very in to depth but still ungood. the crazy twist at the end is amazing but ungood. the overall key points of the are very far and inbetween but yet they are ungood where they are.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2006

    About a Mexican farmer

    This is a short story that tells very little about the Mexican Revolution. A farmer with about ten other men get mad and take on the Federal troops. The farmer becomes a leader after he takes on more battles and more men sign on with him. Through out the book he wonders what he is fighting for.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews

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