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Tijuana Straits: A Novel Paperback – October 18, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sam Fahey, an ex-con and ex-surfer now running a worm farm, is tracking a pack of feral dogs in the Tijuana River Valley when he encounters a badly beaten Mexican woman stumbling across the dunes near Tijuana Straits, a legendary surf spot. But surfing is only a backdrop in Nunn's intense, beautifully written literary thriller; the novel's real subject is the lawless U.S.-Mexico border, and its real story revolves around three damaged lives: the Mexican refugee, an activist named Magdalena Rivera fighting for economic and environmental justice in industrial Tijuana; Armando Santoya, whose life spirals into a drug-fueled rage when his baby is poisoned by the toxic chemicals his wife works with; and Fahey himself, a fully realized antihero struggling to atone for his own troubled life. In a series of long flashbacks, Nunn relates their backstories—along with the painful history of a rugged chunk of the Southern California coast—setting the stage for a powerful, visceral denouement. The novel is an elegy of lost innocence, an exploration of the corrupting power of greed and progress on the land and the people, but its triumph is the complete integration of character and plot. This is a sad but deeply satisfying and intensely moving story. With this fifth novel, Nunn has written a terrific book that more than affirms the promise of his early work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Feminist and environmental activist Magdalena has barely survived a vicious attack by tattooed thugs. Washed ashore at the borderlands, where California and Mexico meet the Pacific, she is rescued by the reluctant Fahey, an ex-con and surfer turned worm farmer. This saint-and-sinner dichotomy serves as the launching point for Nunn's signature theme of the search for redemption, as Fahey, enervated by past misdeeds, marshals the energy to keep Magdalena safe while eluding her tormentors. Nunn shares with Carl Hiaasen a deep moral outrage and a flair for creating, in surrealistic fashion, exaggeratedly malevolent villains amid a stewing, toxic landscape; however, he shares none of Hiaasen's humor, and his stony solemnity, at times, turns his prose dense and ponderous and his story line oppressive. Still, there's no denying his talent, and it comes shining through in the novel's best passages--the climactic pulse-pounding race through the dunes, the near-mystical surfing scenes. This one, then, is for Nunn's devoted inner circle of fans; others would do better by picking up Tapping the Source (1983) or The Dogs of Winter (1997). Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (October 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743279824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743279826
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #779,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By D. Scott VINE VOICE on August 29, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Tijuana Straits" is an understated tale of environmental ruin and personal redemption along the wild, untamed border of California and Mexico. This is not so much a "surf noir" book like Kem Nunn's other novels "Tapping the Source" and "The Dogs of Winter." It is more of a novel about environmental impact on an area and its people.

Sam "The Gull" Fahey, former surf legend and prison inmate, lives in a trailer within walking distance of the U.S./Mexican border. He spends his days tending his worm farm, doing speed, saving indigenous birds and hunting down dangerous stray dogs for the bounty money. He surfs no more because his home break along the Tijuana Straits has long since been poisoned by the toxic runoff from factories based just on the other side of the border in Tijuana.

Magdalena is a smart Mexican woman, a survivor who saw her mother drowned by the Mexican government opening a dam's spillway to flood out shantytown residents to make way for new corporate development. She now works for a lawyer compiling evidence against toxic factories on the Tijuana side of the border. Magdalena's research begins to hit too close to home for the bad guys, who attempt to burn her files and then hire the horrific Armando to kill her. Magdalena is driven away from Tijuana by the murder attempt and she ends up being saved and nursed back to health by Fahey, a shell of a man himself. She convinces Fahey to help her, and sends him back down to Tijuana to retrieve her files. Meanwhile Armando is headed north across the border, looking for her with an aim to completing his unfinished business.

Nunn uses his skill as a writer to give depth to all of his main characters. Take the villain Armando for example. Armando is fearsome, yes, but he is no cookie cutter.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By D. Sean Brickell on August 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Having surfed more than 40 years, nothing captures my interest better than a good story about riding waves. I just read this book on Cape Hatteras, NC while on vacation surfing waves generated by Hurricanes Alex and Charley. Still, it wasn't just my personal environment that made this book perfect. It woulda had the same impact if I'd read it in February in Montana. And never been in the ocean.

The novel will instantly stand as one of the Top Five all-time surfing stories. There is a terrific underlying current in the book, which non-surfers might neither understand nor be aware of. Mr. Nunn, defines his characters in an amazing way, using surfing's wide divide between old school (my style) and the new generation (my sons' outlook). Approaches to the waves are almost polar, even while the sport's inherent values and respect for tradition are from the same template.

On the surface, this novel also is a who-done-it thriller that shows Mr. Nunn is a genuinely exceptional writer who displays equal parts Elmore Leonard, Hunter S. Thompson, and John Grisham.

Intricate details, believeable characters, and conversational dialogue add up to a read that moves along as quickly and with as much unpredictability as a 20-foot storm wave.

Cowabunga, old-timers! Rip and slash, dudes! Either way, get up on it, and enjoy the ride.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By JAMES AGNEW on August 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Kem Nunn has produced another masterpiece. America's most underappreciated writer knows how to combine action with gravity, suspense with philosophy and he demonstrates it here with another great book. In "Tijuana Straits" Nunn not only creates Sam "the Gull," his usual pill-popping ex-surfer with one last chance at redemption, but also, with equal dexterity, Magdalena, the idealistic Mexican Madonna with a passion for social justice, and, most astoundingly, a fully realized, almost sympathetic villian, Armando, the dark shadow of toxic hopelessness. Add to these memorable characters Nunn's beautiful prose, seamless, swift plot and vivid setting and the result is a novel that satisfies on every level. If you want a transcendent read BUY THIS BOOK!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Drew Kampion on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Here's a compelling work of fiction by the dean of the "surf noir genre". Fiction though it be, this fine thriller of a novel is built on a foundation of solid research, shot through with truth and beauty aplenty.

Kem Nunn's previous "noirvels" include Pomona Queen, Tapping the Source, and The Dogs of Winter, the latter two involving core surf motifs.

In Tijuana Straits (named for his fictional reincarnation of the fabled Tijuana Sloughs borderland beach zone), Nunn ingeniously weaves a weft of real-world social and environmental threads into the warp of his plotted story.

And warped it is. The author has imagined and breathed into existence (oh, what lurid mouth-to-mouth that must have been!) the foulest, most violent and gratuitously repugnant creatures I have so far encountered in literature. And he actually had the gall to endow them with histories and nether-souls reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein's lab experiments, so they're not simply crazed ghouls. I mean, they are crazed ghouls ... but not simply.

The novel is a synthesis of fact and fiction, as Nunn has assimilated and translated actual persons and events into his story of one-time surf great Sam Fahey and the activist Mexican woman who finds refuge on his Tijuana River valley worm-farm. Thus, Slough pioneer Dempsey Holder is resurrected as the legend ghost-surfer Hoddy Younger, while a fateful rescue incident is based on an actual day's work performed by larger-than-life Imperial Beach lifeguard Greg Abbott.

Nunn has done a magnificent job of research here, aided and abetted by such borderline denizens as Serge Dedina (of the Wildcoast International Conservation Team) and lifeguard/environmentalist Abbott.
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