From Publishers Weekly
This engrossing travelogue traces the fraught Mexican-American border, where the collision of affluence and poverty is mediated by an ultraviolent narco-traficante culture. Vulliamy (Seasons in Hell) journeys from Tijuana, where the ruthless Arellano Félix Organization cartel battles rivals, to the Atlantic coast, where the even more ruthless Zetas cartel, armed with grenades and rocket launchers, battles the Mexican army and besieges whole cities. In the middle is Juárez, the world's most violent town, an anarchy of contending cartels, street gangs, and their police and military allies, where massacres, beheadings, and grisly sex murders are routine. Vulliamy's border isn't all drugs and killings; it's also narco-corrida songs that celebrate drugs and killings, the American gun industry that feeds off drug money and enables the killings, and a presiding quasi-Catholic cult of Santíssima Muerte (holiest death). The author's take isn't entirely coherent. Sometimes the border is the problem, an artificial rupture that provokes turf battles over prime smuggling sites; sometimes, presented less persuasively, the lawless border is just a symptom of global capitalism, like the desperate illegal immigrants and exploited maquiladora workers (in foreign-owned low-wage factories along the border) he profiles. Although not especially deep, Vulliamy's is a vivid, disturbing dispatch from a very wild frontier.
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Journalist Vulliamy has long reported on life along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, writing about international trucking, sweatshop factories, and illegal immigration. In this compelling book, he brings together the economic and cultural factors that have led to escalating violence along the border in territory that seems not to be under the control of either government. Traveling the frontier from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico, he interviewed drug dealers, law enforcers, and ordinary citizens caught in the gory violence and material excess surrounding narco-trafficking. Glorified in narcocorrido music and American film, drug traffickers are now involved in smuggling illegal immigrants, charging taxes to coyotes and ransom to families of immigrants kidnapped once they cross the border. He chronicles startling violence from a “soupmaker” who dissolves dead bodies in lye and acid to young traffickers who worship a culture of death that combines Catholicism and pre-Columbian faiths. Vulliamy examines the tough Arizona anti-immigration law and other immigration policies that are only now beginning to recognize that narco-trafficking can no longer be seen as the problem and responsibility of Mexico alone. --Vanessa Bush