Tag Archives: argentina

The Last Cowboys at the End of the World By Nick Reding

LastCowboys1Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Three Rivers Press (October 1, 2002)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0609810049

ISBN-13: 978-0609810040



Reviewed by Stephen Page

Once I took a vacation with my wife to visit some of the interesting places in Argentine Patagonia—the Perito Moreno Glacier, the Petrified Forest, the Cave of Hands, etc.  We decided on hiring a guide in a pickup that would wind us through Patagonia. Our guide was friendly and helpful.  In-between the beautiful locations (mentioned above) most of Patagonia is windswept semi-arid desert, so for hours at a time we would only see tufts of yellow grass and scrawny bushes (xerophyte classification).  Once in a while we would see a harrier, or a hawk, or a condor glide by. When we did see a tree or two, they where sticking out of the ground at a thirty-degree angle, because the strong year-round winds made the trees grow that way.  Occasionally we would see a guanaco (an animal genetically related to an African camel and also but more phenotypically related to a llama, which is a smaller, hairier version of a camel), a hare, a snake slither across the road, or a herd of huddled sheep overseen by a lone gaucho sitting in a saddle on a horse silhouetted atop a hill, him and his horse leaning a little due to the wind. Otherwise, our first impression of Patagonia was that it is all but barren.  The gauchos I saw looked ominous, hunched over in their saddles, puffing on hand-rolled cigarettes, staring at us with slit-eyed hatred as if we were something they were not or at the very least, intruders in their world.  I didn’t understand.  We were just tourists driving on a public (dirt) road.  The guide told us “some gauchos are irresponsible, resentful, lazy, violent, drunkards.”  But then he then added, “not all of them.  Most of them were good employees, and good human beings.”  I didn’t think much about those comments at the time.  I just associated gauchos with the romantic notion of cowboys of the Old West in the U.S. of A.—riding in a saddle all day, sustaining for weeks at a time on jerky and coffee (by the way, gauchos drink maté—not coffee—which is a loose-leaf tea sipped out of a gourd through a metal straw).  Anyway, most of the time on our trip, we stayed in one or two star hotels.  We ate grilled meat and white bread three times a day. We travelled . . . ascetically . . . to say the least. One evening the guide invited us to his home to introduce us to his family.  “It’s on the way.” He said.  “Just a few miles from our tour route.”  His house was set against a line of sand-beige foothills spotted with clumps of sparsely leaved green bushes and a few clumps of yellow grass.  A few sheep and a couple of horses were wandering around and chomping on the grass.  It was a humble abode, but well maintained and immaculately clean inside.  His wife was very accommodating and good-natured.  She cooked us up some lamb stew (guiso).  They had an infant child who was lying in a portable crib set by kitchen table and gooed while we ate.  We ate bowls and bowls of the guiso and sipped red wine and talked for hours.  By then it was after sunset, so the couple showed us the guest room.  It was just big enough for a small dresser and a twin bed, and since the only fireplace in the small house was in the living room, we slept with the door open. To keep us warm while we slept, the couple had placed 10 blankets atop the sheets (southern Patagonia can be very cold, all year round—did I mention that Patagonia was windswept? Yes I did. I forgot to mention that the wind is extremely cold, sometimes coming from over the snow-capped Andes, usually directly from the south—Antarctica). That was a romantic night for my wife and me, cuddled together in a small bed with a mountain of blankets over us.  It was certainly memorable. We often talk and laugh about it.

Sometime after, I read Nick Redding’s The Last Cowboys at the End of the World.    I bought the book just before I started studying at Bennington and read only part of the first chapter when a friend of mine, over a cup of coffee, in a Buenos Aires café called “El Gaucho,” explained to me the plot and the ending.  I was, to say the least, perturbed.  I decided to put some time between the book and me so I could read it somewhat unbiasedly.

The Last Cowboys is a wonderful book.  It has some tones of Chatwin, in the narrator behavior and voice, but in the end, overall, it is a unique story.   The setting takes place on a huge spread of a ranch in the Chilean side of Patagonia (more mountainous than the Argentine).  The main character, nicknamed Duck, whom Redding studies in the book is a gaucho, a family man (married and with children), and he is a hodgepodge of all the bad-guys in gaucho land—knife fighter, horse thief, cattle rustler, heavy drinker, wife-beater, philanderer, cuckold, malingerer, excuse maker, liar, irresponsible employee.  Duck lives Spartanly—as do all romanticized gauchos and cowboys—but not because he wants to, because he has to, due to his inadequate salary.  So, in order to live better, rationalizing to himself he deserves better for his family because the owners of the ranch he works on are rich, Duck sets up a system along with a few other gauchos from neighboring ranches, to “lose” a few head of cattle every time he moves the bovines from one pasture to another or when the big end of the year cattle drives are on.  I won’t tell you if Duck gets caught or not, but there is a detailed chapter in the book that explains how difficult it is to fire a bad employee even if he is not working in the manor the employer wants (with the labor laws in effect at the time).  The reader gets to know the inside story of ranching on a big spread—a dying entity in itself, what with feedlots and overpopulation causality.  Reding shows Duck working, in home at rest, his family, his social life. Duck confesses to Reding his dreams, his thoughts, his heartbreaks and elations.

To Reding, Duck’s cowboy/gaucho life is evolving (a most intelligent observation), and he explains why, not didactically, but through the actions of the main character.

Reding puts together a great novel, filled with drama, action, excitement, everyday work drudgery, and romanticism of the Old West set in the present.  I am glad I read it.   You should too.  I will quote something for you to ponder which Reding puts in the introduction:  “if you can’t tell a story without maintaining the dignity of the people involved, you should not be telling the story in the first place.”  I need to tape that to my computer screen.


You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Cowboys-End-World/dp/0609810049


stephen-in-the-countryStephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan.  There he worked in factories, gasoline stations, and steel-cutting shops.  He always longed for a vocation associated with nature.  He now lives in Argentina, teaches literature, ranches, and spends time with his family.


“A night of Poetry and Music” – “Una Noche de Poesía y Música”

 the Spoken Word / the Accordion
with poets Mong-Lan y Stephen Page
y acordeonista Rodger French
Sabado, 29 Septiembre, 19:30 hrs
Fundación Ernesto Sabato
Thames 1717, Ciudad de Buenos Aires
Admisión: Free – Gratis
Vení y compartí con nosotros una noche inolvidable de poesía y música: la palabra encantada por dos poetas fascinantes, Mong-Lan y Stephen Page, y un acordeonista ecléctico y virtuoso, Rodger French. Tres artistas en Buenos Aires se unen para darles una noche excepcional, llena de magia y corazón.
Join us for an unforgettable evening of poetry and music: The enchanted spoken word by two exciting poets, Mong-Lan and Stephen Page, and an eclectic virtuoso accordionist, Rodger French. Three artists in Buenos Aires team together to give you a heartfelt exceptional evening.

Contact Información:Tel: 4833-6856
website: www.fundacionernestosabato.org
Mong-Lan, prize-winning American poet, writer, visual artist, dancer (tango), singer (bel canto, tangos) and educator, left her native Vietnam on the last day of the evacuation of Saigon. Author of five books and two chapbooks, Mong-Lan’s honors include the Pushcart Prize, the Juniper Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Awards, a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, a Fulbright Fellowship. Recipient of an MFA from the University of Arizona, Mong-Lan’s poetry has been frequently anthologized to include in Best American Poetry. www.monglan.com
Mong-Lan, poetisa estadounidense, escritora, pintora, fotógrafa, bailarina del tango argentino, cantante (bel canto y tangos), y profesora, dejó su Vietnam natal el último día de la evacuación de Saigon. Autora de cinco libros y dos libros de cordel, fue galardonada con el Premio Pushcart, el Premio Juniper; ganó una beca de Wallace Stegner para la Universidad de Stanford y una beca Fulbright; obtuvo su Master de Bellas Artes en Poesía en la Universidad de Arizona. La poesía de Mong-Lan ha sido frecuentemente incluida en muchas antologías, como La Mejor Poesía de los EE.UU.  www.monglan.com 
Stephen Page is the author of The Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. He holds two AAs from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA from Bennington College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize for Poetry. He considers playing baseball well a high art.
Stephen Page es el autor de El Timbre de Arena y Dientes de León Still. Tiene dos AA de Palomar College, una licenciatura de la Universidad de Columbia, y un MFA de Bennington College. Él es el ganador del Premio La Nube de Jess Memorial de Poesía. Considera que jugar el béisbol bien un gran arte.
Rodger French es un talentoso acordeonista a piano, percusionista, y malabrista.  Por más de 30 años, se ha desempeñado como director de teatro musical, músico de orquesta, músico de sesión, actor de vodevil y instructor de clown.  Rodger fue el fundador de La Orquesta de Vodevil DeLuxe, y apareció en una producción Off-Broadway de “Shlammer,” un espectacúlo judío-ganster-vodevil.  En 2007, mientras vivió en Accra, Ghana, tocó en el “Ghana@ 50 Jubilee Music Festival.”
Rodger French is an accomplished piano accordionist, percussionist and juggler. For over 30 years he has served as a theatre musical director, orchestra musician, session musician, Vaudeville entertainer and clowning instructor. Rodger was the founder of The DeLuxe Vaudeville Orchestra, appeared in an Off-Broadway production of “Shlammer,” a Jewish-Gangster-Vaudeville show, and, in 2007 while living in Accra, Ghana, he performed in the “Ghana @ 50 Jubilee Music Festival.”

The Summer 2012 Edition of The Fox Chase Review is now Live

The Summer 2012 edition of The Fox Chase Review is now live and on line. Featuring poetry by: A.D. Winans, Le Hinton, Stevie Edwards, Mel Brake, Stephen Page, James D. Quinton, Frank Wilson, Anthony Buccino, John Dorsey, Melanie Lynn Huber, Jim Mancinelli, James Arthur, Christine Klocek-Lim,  Nicholas Balsirow, Jane Lewty, Elijah Pringle and prose by Russell Reece.

If you are in Fox Chase stop in and visit with us at The Fox Chase Reading Series (our schedule).