God And Mr. Gomez
By Jack Smith
Book Review by Jeanie Swentik
(Ed. Note: This is a review that we run from time to time because in our view the disparity between the Latino and North American cultures has never been so humorously depicted.)
There is much to recommend in God and Mr. Gomez. At 223 pages it is easy to get through in a sitting or two, and its deftly painted word pictures (“...the shells of abandoned cars scattered along the road like dead insects”) make it a delight to read. Further, its tight journalistic style speaks volumes in few words, e.g., “Then the war came, and marriage and children and prudence.”
The book is based on a true story, and it is humorously and lovingly told. But perhaps the most fascinating thing for readers here in Mexico is the parallels the author draws between the Mexican and American temperaments. Jack Smith wrote this book many years ago, yet the important cultural differences have changed very little.
A highly-respected columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Jack and his wife (both well-educated advocates of the Puritan work-ethic, practical and realistic) found themselves becoming bewitched in Mexico, as they agreed to lease a plot of land in Baja California, and entrust the building of their retirement home to a charming, albeit exasperating gent by the name of Gomez.
Were the Smiths totally mad to try and build a house with their limited funds, on land that might not have actually belonged to Gomez, on property they could never own outright, in a country of many suspected hazards, all compounded by their extremely limited grasp of Spanish?
Was this a classic case of, mid-life crisis gone crazy? Or was Smith correct in rationalizing his seemingly irrational decision when he wrote that “But that’s what we affluent Americans missed in our daily lives . . . a sense of personal adventure, of risk.”
And an adventure it was. During the madcap construction process (which cost more than twice the original budget), the Smiths ran the gamut of emotions as they slowly came to either ignore, repress or forget much of what they had ever learned about the nature of logic—especially logic, American-style.
But Mr. Gomez remained true to his Mexicanisn. It was the Smiths who changed, even to seeing God in a new light, as they came to appreciate, admire and even love the Mexican way of doing things.
But in the beginning, Smith soon realized that “Our visions and those of Gomez seemed opposed beyond reconciliation. Then later, “... it was the first of many decisions that seemed to be our own, but really belonged to Gomez.” Yet it was a slow and at times agonizing process. After the Smiths had carefully chosen their lot, they discovered that Gomez had abruptly changed their location, and was now constructing their house in the middle of a road. Why? Because, as Gomez pointed out, it had the more beautiful view. Dumbfounded, Smith could only gasp to his wife that the arrogance of the man was astounding. Still, halfway through the construction process, Smith realized that he had never liked or trusted a man more than he did Gomez. Yet the Mexican would remain mysterious and elusive.
God and Mr. Gomez can be found in the Mexican section of the LCS library in Ajijic. I heartily recommend that you read or reread it, drawing your own parallels with some of the local Gomez-types you might have encountered here at lakeside.
(Ed. Note: Should any of our readers have had similar experiences, we would be delighted to hear about them.)