Sergio Troncoso’s first novel—recently revised, expanded, and rereleased by Arte Publico Press—is a daring departure from the personal essays Troncoso is famed for. Rigoberto Gonzalez stated “The Nature of Truth single-handedly redefines the Chicano novel and the literary thriller.” But The Nature of Truth is not a thriller in the sense of pulp fiction; no, Troncoso’s The Nature of Truth is a thriller in the way Richard Wright’s Native Son is a thriller. And it’s an erudite reader’s novel in the way of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain is.Troncoso’s work places the reader on a knife’s edge of suspense, while challenging the reader to examine and question The [very] Nature of Truth, whether that truth be racially defined, intellectually constructed, or a scepter rising from ancient ideals of right and wrong.
Owing a huge debt to Nietzsche’s ideals of “On Truth and Lies in the Extra-Moral Sense” and his longer work The Birth of Tragedy, Troncoso’s The Nature of Truth’s protagonist Helmut Sanchez and the novel’s lesser characters Ariane Sassolini and Sarah Goodman believe they know the Truth of their Yale-protected worlds. But, through a series of fortunate, and some not-so-fortunate, encounters they soon find that nationalistic beliefs, those society promotes to hero status, and their own personal moral codes are merely constructed entities that can be eradicated and reconstructed according to an ever-evolving moral code that makes the nature of truth something that is as ephemeral as life itself.
The Nature of Truth’s underlying question and Troncoso’s definition of truth addresses the post-structuralist ideals of self-abstraction and the devolution of family, and in the greater sense community. Truth, as Troncoso’s and his characters find,
would have been like trying to explain why you were truly in love with a particular person and how you knew what real love was. The experience of universal love linked you to every human being who had ever been in love. But it also particularized this love, with your own feelings and circumstances and capacities, so that no one else would know it as you did. (111)
Troncoso places the nature of truth into the realm of the totally subjective and eradicates the ideals of any remaining vestiges of a Kantian universal Truth. Troncoso blames this on the “expanding of the village” and the proliferation of various religious, political, and racial “bowls” that create “truth [as] primarily something understood, rather than something codified into law. Without the empathy for the other members of your community, the law became something to manipulate for your selfish benefit” (251).
Troncoso’s The Nature of Truth informs his mature works—From this Wicked Patch of Dust and Crossing Borders: Personal Essays—as they examine the ideas of borders, their permeability, and their dualistic nature of the real and the imagined. Without the intellectual questioning of truth in The Nature of Truth, his mature works, I believe, would not have been possible. Troncoso, primarily known for his US-Mexican Border works, is, as The Nature of Truth suggests, the brightest and most able of the modern Border writers and thinkers. And somewhere in Troncoso’s raising within the Border’s transnational diaspora, he found that the nature of truth can only be located in the confines of the self, the family, the community, and our own definition of the truth.
Sergio Troncoso is the author of five books:. Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence, winner of the Southwest Book Award and the International Latino Book Award; From this Wicked Patch of Dust; Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, winner of the Bronze Award for Essays from ForeWord Reviews; The Nature of Truth; and The Last Tortilla and Other Stories, winner of the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize and the Southwest Book Award. Troncoso was born and grew up in El Paso, Texas, the son of Mexican immigrants. He graduated from Harvard College and studied international relations and philosophy at Yale University. Troncoso was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund's Alumni Hall of Fame.
Brandon D. Shuler is Prime Number Magazine’s books review editor.