As you might imagine, we Texans — I’m seventh generation — are mighty picky about the way our state is depicted in literature. Years ago, when I read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, I simply had to suspend all disbelief — since the book is littered with historical flaws — and enjoy it as a pure work of fiction. Same goes for The Texicans.
You can’t for a second pretend Nina Vida has done all her homework, but the book, set in 1840s Texas, is a completely engaging tale following a handful of remarkable settlers. Aurelia Ruíz is a young Mexican woman living in San Antonio whose father marries her off to a Texas Ranger; after her husband dies, she ends up in a Comanche camp. Soon after, she meets Joseph Kimmel, a Polish Jew who weds an Alsatian immigrant, Katrin, and who establishes a most unusual ranching community. Together, they struggle against the perils common in that day: disease, hunger, and outlaw bands of Rangers.
This isn’t the Texas hill country my ancestors knew; it’s the hill country purely of Vida’s powerful imagination, shot with a dose of magic realism, with ”the clouds girdling the mountains in a rainbow of color” and the sun ”a golden button overhead.” I only wish Vida hadn’t ended with a few pages on Aurelia’s fate; they feel hastily tacked on and downright unnecessary.