Monday, November 22, 2010

Murder City Review

I just published a review of Murder City at Wunderkammer. Here's a piece:
Beyond the factual problems, Bowden's writing is limited by his tendency toward crude generalizations. Among them:

"[W]omen count more in Mexican beer commercials than on Mexican streets."

"Mexicans learn early on, by watching the elders, to retreat or cower before authority..."

"Mexico is not a society that respects human rights."

“Mexico is not a good place to need help.”

Whether you read such sentences as a bit of harmless hyperbole or manifestations of an offensive anti-Mexican bias is largely a matter of taste, but suffice it to say that nuance is not a virtue in great supply in Bowden’s opus.

Special mention must be made of the over-the-top treatment of the Mexican army. At one point, Bowden refers to it as a "criminal organization.” Elsewhere he writes, “To have a general speak to you is not to be desired. They can hand out death like a party favor.”

He also accuses the army of institutionalized racism, saying that "officers have lighter skin that loses pigment steadily as rank gets higher until there is the rarified air of generals who look like Europeans dropped in from some colonial outpost." Here is the photo of the army's foremost commander, General Guillermo Galván, and here are the photos of all the top brass; either image presents about as concise a rebuttal of that claim as is possible.
As the above probably suggests, I had a lot of problems with the book. A vivid read, as Bowden's stuff always is, but as a description of reality, it was lacking.


Aguachile said...

This is an excellent review. I am currently reading Ed Vulliamy's Amexica: War along the Borderline, and I find that many of your observations would hold equally true with regards to this work.

pc said...

Thanks I appreciate the compliment. I don't know War along the Borderline, but a lot of that stuff has too much noir, to the point where an actual portrayal of real life is shunted to one side.

RG said...

Thanks, Agua and PC. From what I've read of Bowden and Vulliamy neither appeared worth my time. I might disagree slightly with Patrick in that I might cut Bowden a little slack for at least paying lip service to the role of economics in the narcotics export biz, but serious analysis seems lost in the "if it bleeds, it leads" style of journalism both books depend on for their marketing.

pc said...

I think Bowden's book is worth reading just as a lesson in how not to analyze something, though I'm not sure I'd read it again.