108 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2010
If the angels ever visited Juarez looking for the proverbial one good man, I'm afraid they'd either be kidnapped, murdered, or probably both before their search was over.
In his dark, non-fiction novel, Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields, Charles Bowden takes you by the hand and gives a guided tour of one of the lower hells that's just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
On your journey through this third-world dystopia, you travel to an impoverished insane asylum out in the desert ran by El Pastor, who collects from the streets of Juarez those whose lives were shattered by torture, drugs, gang rape, and a host of other horrors. From there you'll visit the "death houses" where underneath floors and patios the anonymous dead wait to be found. You'll cruise the streets at dawn to find the bodies bound with silver and gray duct tape at hands, feet, and mouth, deposited the night before. You'll also meet a sicario, an assassin, who speaks of his childhood, his time in the Mexican state police and the FBI academy, and finally his plunge into "the life" where he has since racked up over 250 murders becoming a highly sought after "murder artist".
At each point on your journey, Bowden stops and makes you look, he makes you bear witness as he has done for almost 20 years, to the unacknowledged, unreported disintegration of not only a city, but of an entire country.
From the nearly ubiquitous corruption in all branches of the Mexican government, military, and police forces to the members of drug cartels living like kings surrounded by grinding poverty to American factories paying starvation wages, Bowden drags it all into the light for us to see.
This book does not pull any punches: While Murder City is a vital, important work, it's also a dark and disturbing read. But throughout it rings true.
Charles Bowden has opened my eyes to a world I could never have imagined prior to reading Murder City.
Take the ride.
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2010
At the time I am writing this, there was only one other review, which gave the book a two-star rating. After finishing the Kindle edition,I have to say that I feel the other rating is unfair. At first I agreed with the other reviewer- and I had really wanted to like this book, after hearing a very moving interview with the author on NPR. The narrative in the beginning feels disjointed, and I found the constant references to "Miss Sinaloa" to be annoying. But stay with it, the book draws you in. As I read farther, I really began to understand how "Miss Sinaloa" is a metaphor for the City; she is beautiful, but insane and terribly damaged. And, in the end, the Author's imagining of an "Our Town" type play with the Sinaloa murder vicims as characters moved me to tears. I don't know if all the readers will agree with the author about some of the underlying reasons for the murders, but the book is interesting, provacitive- and worth reading.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2010
Wow Mr Bowden's book floored me, I couldn't put the thing down I finished it in about 3 days. I imagine some people will have problems with Bowden's style, he writes about his experiences in a non-linear way sometimes repeating small fragments I believe the style reinforces the chaotic life he experienced in Juarez. Instead of trying to give us the who's who of cartels and connections Bowden's premise is that the killings are illustrative not of a break down of society but of a new form largely without rhyme or reason. This book is about the future and the ability of people to live with the world collapsing around them. Excellent highly reccomended!
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2010
I wouldn't characterize Bowden's writing so much as monotonous but rather as relentless in a notable effort to describe the endless chaos that is Juarez. I had the feeling that if Cormac McCarthy turned to journalism, Murder City would be the result. Beneath all of the coverage of Juarez is the lurking apprehension that someday this could be the US of A. Murder City is a story of the pursuit of wealth and the measures people will take to preserve and protect that wealth. It is also a story of the complicity of the USA in perpetuating the chaos that is Juarez. Nothing occurs in isolation.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2010
Bowden shows the nightmare that is Ciudad Juarez in vivid, beautiful prose. He is one of the most talented contemporary writers in any genre. Readers who enjoy writers like Truman Capote, Michael Herr, and Mark Bowden will love this book.
While the governments and elites of the US and Mexico pretend to be fighting a war on drugs the Mexican government and army are in fact fighting a war for drugs. Juarez is more dangerous than Baghdad or Mogadishu, and it takes great courage for any journalist to go there and witness and then tell the truth. Bowden has great compassion for the citizens of Juarez who are just trying to live their lives in peace and raise their families, living in a hellish city disintegrating into anarchy. Every politician and politician should read this book before presuming to understand the drug trade and illegal immigration. Can they handle the truth?
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2010
This is a twisted mess of a book, convoluted and poetic, some wild mix of Jack Kerouac and Raymond Chandler and Truman Capote and something much pulpier. The writing is fantastic, with chilling metaphors that fit perfectly the madness in Juarez.
There are no simple answers for the situation there. A perfect storm of systemic corruption, trade politics, globalization, illegal drugs, poverty and gang violence have created a city where drug smuggling, murder and illegal human trafficking is less about a morality and more about opportunity. The only opportunity. Even the low-wage factories, the maquiladoras, where many in Juarez have traditionally made their un-livable living, are closing down as companies take their business overseas to even cheaper labor markets like China. As a result, there is no hope in Juarez, a city that is more dangerous than Iraq. In this city that is visible from El Paso, Texas, it is not uncommon for a dozen people to be killed in a day. For bodies to be found half-buried in the desert, arms and mouths bound with duct tape, doused in gasoline and burned. For bodies to be found wrapped in plastic, decapitated. For young women and girls to disappear and be found weeks later, raped, murdered. For the corrupt police to show up and block off a street for the corrupt army, who arrives, rounds up a group of people, systematically executes them and then leaves. For reporters who take the wrong photos or ask the wrong questions to be disappeared. For children to be caught in the crossfire as their parents are gunned down. To find bodies with hundreds of rounds in them. To find bodies of people who were tortured for days. To find "death houses," where under the floorboards lie dozens rotting bodies of anonymous Mexicans. And all the while, in the U.S., all we hear of is the heroic "war against drugs" that the Mexican government is waging, battling the cartels.
What is the truth in Juarez? Who's at fault? There is no truth. We're all at fault. Here is a city that is barely third-world, at the border of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, a country with an insatiable appetite for drugs and an endless supply of weapons. When the drug routes through Miami were squeezed out, the route shifted through Juarez. Those who saw the opportunity in Juarez, those who had the power to seize it, seized it. And they have crushed all hope in the city and made crime and killing the only lucrative opportunity. That, or leave Juarez and hope to make it across the border.
Bowden uses the story of a recurring character, Miss Sinaloa, a singer who came up to Juarez from a town down south, intending to have a good time. She got high at a party, and then was gang-raped and beaten for a week. She lost her mind. She lives in a house now, a "crazy place," as Bowden calls it. She is a metaphor for the city, a place that once had as much potential as any city and now exemplifies the absolute worst of humanity.
Although Bowden doesn't get much into the politics of immigration, this is a very timely book, one that makes painfully obvious that illegal immigration is not an issue--it is a symptom. Until there is opportunity in places like Juarez, until there is more opportunity than crime or escape, a fence or tighter border patrols will not solve things the way they need to be solved. People will not stop trying to cross the border. Hell, if I lived in Juarez, I'd cross the border or die trying. Illegal? Screw the law. The "law" in Juarez is just as likely to kill you as the cartels. The law just is another cartel. So if I'm in Juarez, I'm going for the border. And are you going to blame me? Wouldn't you do the same? If your life depended on it?
After reading Roberto Bolaño's 2666, I wanted to learn more about the situation in Juarez. I'm not sure how I found this book, but what a lucky find. And even luckier that I got to listen to Bowden read it. I highly recommend the audiobook version of MURDER CITY. Bowden's read is chilling. His voice is deep and gravely and he sounds like someone who has spent a lot of time staring out across the desert, wondering what the hell is going on out there.
47 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2011
This book is pitched as an examination of the bloodshed in Ciudad Juarez with a subtitle that implies some macro analytical frame of reference, but it's actually a disjointed account of the author's recent visits to northern Mexico, written in a repetitive pseudo-Beatnik prose that does little to help the narrative.
I think the idea may have been to create something like Roberto Saviano's great book "Gomorrah," which blended reportage, history and impressionistic first-person observations, but "Murder City" falls short of the mark. Anyone looking for even a basic account of what's happening in Mexico is out of luck: Bowden's narrative is studded with facts, assertions and anecdotes that are impossible to verify because he doesn't include things like names, dates or even exact locations. A lot of the stories he presents come off like hyper-violent fables.
It's frustrating, because the book contains interesting ideas. Bowden asserts that Juarez, instead of an example of a city backsliding into chaos, is a prototypical metropolis of the new global economy, but he spends no effort elaborating or explaining or developing that thesis; he just repeats some variation of "This is the future" dozens of times.
He's also arrogantly dismissive of virtually every other attempt to explain or understand Juarez, implying that he alone possesses the ability to truthfully explain what's happening there, although his prose his so obtuse and he's so unwilling to explain his ideas that this claim amounts to nothing more than idle boasting.
It pains me to give a bad review to a book that obviously involved a lot of work and that clearly bears good intentions, but this was just a disappointment on every level.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2010
"Murder City" by Charles Bowden is a visceral, gritty journey into the chaos and violence that has gripped the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez since 2008. Juarez has always been a dangerous town, but since Mexican president Felipe Calderon unleashed the nation's military on his own people, it has turned into a wasteland of murder, rape, crime and terror. Bowden chronicles the city's downfall with the eye of a scientist and the pen of a poet, he introduces us to haunting characters, chilling stories and produces a work that isn't just about Mexico, but about the heart of darkness found in all societies. This is writing that deserves to be compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "News Of A Kidnapping."
Bowden here is not providing a traditional, academic study, some here have complained about his "odd" writing style. What Bowden has done is capture the SPIRIT, the humanity of the situation. "Murder City" is about the victims of history, the human beings swept up in a hurricane of madness. He brilliant mixes hallucionatory passages with facts, figures and historical research. The portrait he paints is of a Mexico where the basic system of society is decaying, falling apart due to many factors. He brings the city of Juarez to life with edgy descriptions of its dusty landscapes, dangerous slums and the wealthy districts full of Barbie dolls who walk down the street with their shopping bags, trying to ignore the apocalyptic wasteland around them. We travel everywhere from the bars to the underside of the bridges that connect to El Paso, Texas. Bowden provides details on Mexico's drug cartels, including El Chapo Guzman, Mexico's own Pablo Escobar who hovers like a ghostly presence over the bloodshed. There's also the Zetas, a cartel composed of former army commandos. All this and more is provided with rich insights.
One of the most memorable aspects of Bowden's book is the characters he presents here. We meet former hitmen now hiding out in undisclosed locations, describing the inner workings of the cartel, the horrific torture and assassinations they carry out to keep a major industry going. Americans will be shocked to read the stories of journalists fleeing for the lives, terrified of both the cartels and the murderous army, seeking asylum in the US only to be imprisoned by immigration authorities. One of the key characters is the ghostly "Miss Sinaloa," a beauty from Sinaloa who arrives in Juarez, parties hard and then finds herself gang-raped for three days by Juarez police officers, she is then dumped at an asylum in the outskirts of the city where she slowly regains her mind and even finds love. Bowden uses her as a sort of Siren, a personification of what is happening to modern Mexico. The other presence, more terrifying, is that of the Mexican army. The news reports a lot on the crimes of the drug cartels, but Bowden here explains that the Mexican army is a criminal organization itself, not fighting the cartels but fighting for a slice of the action and pay. Bowden chronicles how the Mexican army is marauding through out its own country, looting, disappearing and raping. One of the great touches of the book is the empathy Bowden also manages to convey for the Mexican people themselves who want change, they want better things, but find themselves trapped between a criminal apparatus and a corrupt regime.
"Murder City" is not just about the drug war however, it is also about our own modern, capitalist history. Bowden shows here how Mexico is feeling the aftershocks of years of "free market" policies imposed on the population. Juarez itself is the offspring of NAFTA, which Bill Clinton promised would end illegal immigration and move Mexico into First World ranking, instead it has ravaged an entire population which now finds itself either fleeing to the US or depending on a narco-driven economy at home. There are chilling, poetic moments where Bowden warns that Juarez is not some anamoly, it is not a freak, it is the future, our future, Mexico is simply getting the first taste.
"Murder City" is the kind of nonfiction that gives you facts, but at the same time transports you to a time and place with the energy and prose of great literature. Bowden presents his gallery of assassins, murders, victims and borders with powerful images, scorching words and a unique passion found in few books now on the bestseller lists. If you want some sort of dry study of Mexico's current ills, look elsewhere, "Murder City" is nonfiction noir that goes to the heart of the matter. This is one of the year's best nonfiction books.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2011
It's beyond me how some people could not love this book. It's poetic prose, reminiscent of Charles Bukowski. If you're looking for the truth behind the Mexican slaughter, this book paints that canvass better than any source I have yet to find (and I've been looking for 5 years!). At the same time, I would also consider this book a work of fine literature.
In fact, I doubt an accurate depiction of Mexico could be made in any other fashion. Mexican statistics are fudged. Mexican journalists are controlled under penalty of death. American journalists spin the story into an over simplistic false narrative in service of the Neocon agenda ("it's the drug lords duking it out"). Mexican police cannot tell the truth because they are implicit. Same with the Mexican army. That pretty much leaves it to literature to fill the gap where any other sort of description would surely fail... and Charles Bowden does a wonderful job. Treat yourself to Bowden's audio narration (narrated by Bowden) of this book.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2010
I LIVE IN EL PASO. THE AUTHOR KEPT EMPHASIZING THE HORROR OF THIS AREA. 15 MINUTES FROM MY HOME I WOULD BE IN THE MOST DANGEROUS CITY IN THE WORLD. NO ONE WHO LIVES IN THIS CITY IS UNTOUCHED BY THE "HOLOCOST" GOING ON IN JUAREZ. PERSONALLY I KNOW OF TWO VICTIMS OF THE ATROCITIES. AN 8 YEAR OLD LITTLE BOY AND A YOUNG WOMAN WHO WAS EIGHT MONTHS PREGNANT AND HAD A TWO YEAR OLD BABY. BOTH WERE AMERICAN CITIZENS. THESE KILLINGS HAVE BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS AND MOST AMERICANS ARE UNAWARE. I BELIEVE THE AUTHOR IS NOT ONLY TELLING THE STORY BUT REPEATING AND REPEATING THE STORY BECAUSE NO ONE SEEMS TO GET IT (or if they do, don't seem to care). MAYBE IT WILL TAKE A SLAUGHTER IN THE STREETS OF EL PASO TO CALL ATTENTION TO IT. EVEN WRITING THIS REVIEW GIVES ME PAUSE. WILL I BE THE NEXT TARGET? THE DRUG LORDS ARE ABOVE THE LAW AND EVEN SADDER, AMERICA IS THEIR BEST CUSTOMER.