This is the first work of fiction ever endorsed by Alamo de Parras. While a departure from our usual standard of "History Only" book reviews, we felt that you should know about this marvelous work of fiction described by some as the most accurate telling of the Alamo story ever written.
The Gates of the Alamo
A novel by Stephen Harrigan.
Alfred A. Knopf, publisher, New York, 2000.
580 pages, price $25.00.
The Gates of the Alamo is the first full-length historical novel centered on the Alamo Siege and Battle. The book provides a perspective of the Texas Revolution seen through the eyes of both fictional and historical characters.
Edmund McGowan is a botanist, working for the Mexican government on a survey of the flora of Texas. He fears a war will disturb his twenty-year single-minded devotion to the compilation of notes and specimens for a volume he hopes to write. Mary Mott is a widow, struggling to keep an inn flourishing in the mostly-Irish town of Refugio. She has fears that war will destroy everything she has worked to build. Mary's sixteen-year old son, Terrell, looks forward to armed conflict, seeing it as a chance to leave his home and seek adventure.
It is apparent that Gates of the Alamo is the result of Harrigan's exhaustive research that includes not only the Texas Revolution, but the details surrounding the times and customs of frontier Texas. It brings to realization the uncertainty, fear, and ever-present danger of living at the edge of civilization. This was life in early Texas.
Historical characters, such as Bowie, Travis, Crockett, Colonel Almonte, and Santa Anna form a backdrop to the novel but never take center stage. Unlike other historical novels, the fictional characters in Gates of the Alamo are not present at every important event. In reading the book , you don't get the feeling that the Texas Revolution occurred just to provide a plot twist to the novel. Instead, Edmund, Mary, Terrell, and the other fictional characters find themselves irresistibly drawn into the maelstrom of the revolution, sometimes willingly, but often not. Their lives take place amid the swirl of historical events, much as in real life.
"The Gates of the Alamo" focuses equally on the Mexican perspective. Two of the main characters are Mexican soldiers. One, Blas Angel Montoya, is the Primero Sergente of the Toluca Battalion's cazadore company. He is a career soldier that takes great pride in the fact that he leads an elite unit: sharpshooters and skirmishers armed with the deadly Baker rifle. The other is the ambitious Teniente Telesforo Villaseñor, from the Zapadore Battalion. He is a mapmaker assigned to Santa Anna's personal staff.
Steve Harrigan's battle descriptions are among the most vivid I have read. He describes the hardships met by soldados on their long march to Béxar in detail and understands the chaos surrounding a battlefield. He charges his descriptions of little-known military engagements with excitement and draws his story from the perspectives of the individuals. This gives the account a personal immediacy not found in other narratives.
I think a fictional novel, in some ways, can give a greater sense of reality than a non-fiction historical account. Such is the case with The Gates of the Alamo. I highly recommend this book not only to those with an interest in the Texas Revolution, but to anyone seeking a great reading experience.
Robert L. Durham, Contributing Editor
Alamo de Parras