A Ballad of Love and Glory rides the waves of war and the bloom of lovers’ passion, intertwining real events of the Mexican-American War with a vividly imagined relationship between a forlorn Irish immigrant soldier and a grieving Mexican curandera, or folk healer.
In her fourth novel, Mexican American author Reyna Grande explores a little-known aspect of the Mexican-American War. After the annexation of Texas in 1845, hostilities between the United States and Mexico approached a boiling point due to a land dispute near the Rio Grande. At the time, foreign-born soldiers, primarily from Ireland, Germany and Italy, made up nearly half of the U.S. Army. After the American invasion of Mexico, many of the soldiers deserted the army in favor of Mexico’s cause as they resisted further land takeover and domination by the U.S.
In Grande’s detailed and well-researched novel, Irish Catholic immigrant John Riley, who is based on a real figure, deserts the U.S. Army in 1846. Enticed by the promise of better treatment, more pay and acres of land, John joins the Mexican Army, leading a growing battalion of deserters under Saint Patrick’s banner. They become known as the San Patricios.
Meanwhile, after Texas Rangers murder her husband, Ximena Salomé uses all the healing skills her grandmother taught her to bring comfort and relief to the many soldiers felled by each brutal battle. Her fate becomes inextricably bound with John’s while saving the life of one of his fellow soldiers, and in time, longing leads them to each other’s arms.
Grande’s novel highlights the abuses that American immigrants suffered at the hands of Yankee soldiers, in addition to the atrocities of war and all the maddening political and military machinations that go along with it. Although A Ballad of Love and Glory lags in pace or falls into cliche at times, it also often excels at making history palpable and real, not dry and unimpassioned but lively and full of the emotions the people of the past surely felt.
A Ballad of Love and Glory lives up to its title as it pays tribute to the heroism of everyday people called upon to defend their honor as well as their lives.