Azuela is one of the first major Mexican novels, with his novel Los de Abajo being one of the first books to replicate the horrors of the Mexican Revolution. Later greater stylists like Juan Rulfo would be considered greater innovators in the Spanish-language novel, but Azuela also broke ground. Much like Emile Zola, Premchand, or Stephen Crane, or any major early 20th century writer, Azuela was a naturalist, interested in the character as an archetype of social oppression, and so the people who inhabit the book are the farmers and the poor who are destroyed by war. While I normally read in Spanish, I could only find a (free) e-book of the novel in English. My review represents the fact that I read it in translation, and thus I will keep my review to English.
Several things for me made Azuela stand out. First was his use of symbolism, naming his characters and archetypes after Latin concepts (naming his main character Demetrio over the Greek goddess of agriculture, Demeter, is a very obvious example). This allows the novel to be read on its literal level and a symbolic level, which enhances re-readability. The second was the language. The style reminded me of Hemingway. The prose is quite sparse, powerful when it needs to be, when someone is about to be shot or shoot, when the person says just the right or wrong thing. A lot of the scenes are dialogue driven, and while I did not live in 29th century Mexico, the characters appear to mimic real speech. When Azuela chooses to write descriptively, it is apt to the scene. The prose crows with the roosters, it flickers gunpowder with the rifles, it makes the milk curdle with the gulps.
Still, I would not necessarily rank it amongst the best of novels written. One can never shake the feeling that the prose has didactic intentions behind it, and despite the amount of dialogue and action, despite the amount of people who die, there is very little of life to the characters created or the world rendered, and as a result, it feels little as a book that merits to live on.