The Useless Servants
by Rolando Hinojosa
Publication Date: September 1, 1993
In The Useless Servants, award-winning author Rolando Hinojosa captures the obscenity and pointlessness of war in the pages of a Korean War journal written by his fictional everyman, Rafe Buenrostro.
Drawing from his own experiences, Hinojosa probes the mind of this Texas country boy who suddenly finds himself in an unknown country fighting in an undeclared war for an unknown reason. Meeting and befriending an unending stream of people who are gone as suddenly as they appear, Rafe alternately fears for his life and is bored to death.
Dehumanized by the horrors that surround him, Rafe latches onto the one thing that offers hope for survival: his diary. He records his observations laconically and without emotion in a routine geared to survival and to becoming more effective in the performance of his grisly duty as an artilleryman. Hinojosa is successful in building suspense and irony as much by what is unsaid, unrecorded in the diary, as by what is expressed.
In The Useless Servants, Hinojosa departs from his usual genre, the generational novels that chronicle the human comedy in an imaginary region on the Texas-Mexico border. He sets aside the usual theme of inter-ethnic and interpersonal conflict to confront a painful chapter in his own life, placing Rafe Buenrostro, one of his alter egos, in a far more serious drama lived on the edge of sanity on the frontier between physical survival and spiritual destruction.
“Although his sharp eye and accurate ear capture a place, its people and a time in a masterly way, his work goes far beyond regionalism. He is a writer for all readers.”
—The New York Times
“The timeless truths of war—the slaughter of civilians, atrocities condoned, legions of refugees—are related with near-documentary realism in this powerful novel of the Korean War . . . Hinojosa gives us a graphic picture of the unchanging face of war—raw, gritty and inhumane.”
“American literature abounds with war novels, but few are as tersely horrific as The Useless Servants.”
ROLANDO HINOJOSA, the Ellen Clayton Garwood Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award; the most prestigious prize in Latin American fiction, Casa de las Américas, for the best Spanish American novel in 1976; and the Premio Quinto Sol in 1974. His novels include The Valley / Estampas del Valle, Ask a Policeman, The Useless Servants, and Dear Rafe / Mi querido Rafa, all published by Arte Público Press.
Learn more by visiting his faculty page.