"my personal history would not be disappointing to readers, but it is my own affair which i want to keep to myself" - b. traven in defense of his refusal to provide a biography to help promote his first novel.
the name that b. traven was christened with may never be revealed to us, but as tantalizing as that mystery is, i think it's pretty evident when you read his books that you know him: his interest in mexico and the indigenous population and their folklore; his disdain for greed and those who succumb to it; his love of travelling and adventure. the stories that comprise this collection are all reflective of those interests he most famously combined in the novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. i think b. traven's talents might suit the short form best: as a writer, his strengths lie in his dialogue, and his characters, and the adventures they embark upon, and while the adventures are grand, he doesn't rely on a lot of plot to entrance you.
with the exception of "a new god was born" which felt a little too thin, and too journalistic in style, more a footnote in a history of guatemala than something that stood up on its own legs, all the stories in this collection really kicked my ass. i found "night visitor" spooky but also fascinating, and my enjoyment of it was perhaps coloured by the mystery of b. traven: one of the characters claims he has written 18 books but had no desire to publish them once they were perfected, but instead burned them, feeling a complete satisfaction in his cycle of creation and destruction. stories like "effective medicine", "the cattle drive", and "midnight call" seem like he must have lived them, and yet make me feel i had these adventures too. "conversion of some indians" and particularly "friendship" ask some very basic and deep questions, that he surely believed we should all ask ourselves, and challenge us to think and find our own answers. "macario", the beautiful final tale in the collection, is regarded as a modern mexican fable: the story of a woodcutter whose only ambition in life is to eat a whole turkey himself, and faces life and death decisions as a result. it is a tremendous story, and it doesn't really matter if the man who wrote it was mexican, german, or american. he just tells a great rollicking tale. :)