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West Of The West Hardcover – April 14, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. These swift, penetrating essays from former Los Angeles Times writer Arax (In My Father's Name) take the measure of contemporary California with a sure and supple hand, consciously but deservedly taking its place alongside Didion's and Saroyan's great social portraits. Expect the unexpected from Arax's reports up and down the state: on the last of the Okies, the latest migrants from Mexico, the tree-sitters of Berkeley, Bay Area conspiracy theorists, an Armenian chicken giant's infamous fall or the mammoth marijuana economy of Humboldt County, among much else. For Arax, a third-generation Californian of Armenian heritage who spent years covering the Central Valley as an investigative reporter, the state's outré reputation and self-representation are a complex dance of myth and memory that includes his own family lore and personal history. It's partly this personal connection, running subtly but consistently throughout, that pushes the collection past mere reportage to a high literary enterprise that beautifully integrates the private and idiosyncratic with the sweep of great historical forces. (May)
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Review

Publishers Weekly, starred review, February 25, 2009
These swift, penetrating essays from former Los Angeles Times writer Arax (In My Father’s Name) take the measure of contemporary California with a sure and supple hand, consciously but deservedly taking its place alongside Didion’s and Saroyan’s great social portraits. Expect the unexpected from Arax’s reports up and down the state: on the last of the Okies, the latest migrants from Mexico, the tree-sitters of Berkeley, Bay Area conspiracy theorists, an Armenian chicken giant’s infamous fall or the mammoth marijuana economy of Humboldt County, among much else. For Arax, a third-generation Californian of Armenian heritage who spent years covering the Central Valley as an investigative reporter, the state’s outré reputation and self-representation are a complex dance of myth and memory that includes his own family lore and personal history. It’s partly this personal connection, running subtly but consistently throughout, that pushes the collection past mere reportage to a high literary enterprise that beautifully integrates the private and idiosyncratic with the sweep of great historical forces.

Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life
“Mark Arax has achieved something truly wonderful. He shows us a California we don't know or haven't yet heard about: Post 9/11 racism and craziness in the Central Valley; dunderhead FBI agents prowling the land; the plight of immigrants as it really pans out; marijuana moguls dealing in stacks of cash that stinks of weed; the disgraceful decline of the once-great LA Times—all of it set in the larger frame of a generation of Armenian immigrants tied to the old country, in love with the new country, struggling to discover the meaning of life with all their might.”

Kirkus
“A lucid, warts-and-all portrait of California by a native son….[W]orthy of a place alongside the works of … Carey McWilliams and even Joan Didion.”

James Ellroy, author of The Black Dahlia and the forthcoming Blood’s a Rover
West of the West is a dreamscape as much as a landscape—and heart-stirring in its style and acute perception. It could be titled ‘Why We Live Here Anyway’—I exhort you to read this book.”

Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography
“I intended to spend half an hour and spent half a day. This is that kind of book. You think you know California? Think again, and settle in.”
 

San Diego Union Tribune article, 4/17
“Arax dug deep into the dirt of California, and he didn't come away with his hands clean.”
 

Los Angeles Times
Arax gives us "intimate dramas" shaped by the "intense subtleties of his writing... He goes at events with the fierce bulldog tenacity that is one of his trademarks as a writer.... charged and highly moving stuff."
 

Las Vegas Review Journal
“The many strengths of “West of the West” include solid reporting, taut writing and an author who has a firm grasp on his subject. Arax’s California isn’t about beaches or Hollywood or Disneyland. It’s about a mix of real people who live there, mostly not in the limelight. You can trust that when Arax writes about this subject, he knows what he’s talking about."
 

San Francisco Chronicle
"Arax is the perfect cicerone through the heavenly and hellish landscapes and historical evolutions he has chosen to chronicle... He knows how to write colorfully.... The tales are never hurried but unfolded in a measured, controlled manner for maximum context and texture. And he has come up with some doozies!... Haunting."
 

Sacramento Bee
“Native son Mark Arax travels the state side-to-side, end-to-end to gather its stories, writing about the ‘real’ California lost in the gloss of tourism teasers.”

Washington Post
"Mark Arax is a great reporter. He knows where the action is, and the remarkable level of detail he captures tells us he's as tenacious and unrelenting as the most hard-boiled noir detective... Arax successfully evades the tropes about California being the land of either dreams or nightmares. Instead, his essays paint an impressionistic landscape of a land of frustration.”

Contra Costa Times
"In West of the West, Arax demonstrates the same uncanny ability to get closer to his subjects than you would ever think possible. These are compelling, sometimes heart-rendering, eminently readable stories."

Minneapolis Star Tribune
"West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State is a book by a writer "bound to this place" even as that place changes every day. It is immediate in the best ways, sometimes intemperate, but always interesting.”

The Atlantic
“By turns lucid, harrowing, and comical, this collection of dispatches paints a darkly impressionistic portrait of modern California. A journalist and native son, Arax puts paid to vestigial West Coast clichés and replaces them with ominous realities and discontents encountered during four years of intrastate travel. Migrants, exiles, dreams, schemers, murderers, hippies, fundamentalists, conspiracists, environmentalists—all share space in these pages and in that vast Golden State. The possibility of crazy-quilt discursion looms high, but Arax calmly sews the diverse stories and dramatic studies into coherence and poignancy. The effortless mix here—memoir and reportage, psychography and geography—cooly achieves the author’s aim: ‘to find the truth and the lie of the California myth’.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483900
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483906
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Mark Arax is a brilliant, honest writer.
Crystal Pyramid
I would recommend this book to all native Californians and those interested in learning more about the underbelly of local and state politics.
Beverly C.
West of the West is an excellent read on twenty-first century California.
Ronald E. Lakey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Eric Nazarian on April 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Mark's Arax's WEST OF THE WEST is a rare, lasting and truly inspiring achievement in literary journalism and non-fiction. It is a piece of literature penned with extreme care and a testament to writing from the heart with deep conviction. The stories are rich in variety, sobering and deeply human, each one uncovering a new face of California in the 21st Century. Each story is a voyage into the hidden worlds that exist right next to the highways of Arax's Golden State. After finishing the book, I found myself in a state of extreme shock and joy. Shock, because the story "The Summer of the Death of Hilario Guzman" is probably the most raw, honest and poetic non-fiction piece I have ever read about a California migrant worker, and joy at the realization that great storytelling can inspire new ways of looking at the world around us. This book is right up there with the best of Saroyan and Steinbeck. I read it twice and will no doubt revisit it. The rural, suburban and unforgiving landscapes in Mark Arax's prose put me into the shoes of Triqui Indian migrant workers, Humboldt real estate developers and Armenian moonshiners, among other colorful modern-day Californians. Required reading for all who aspire to be storytellers.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Markar Melkonian on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
We can talk about Mark as a wordsmith, as a master storyteller, as a truly writerly writer, as the novelist Nancy Kricorian once described him to me. This is all true, but West of the West is more than this. If you ask me, Mark is not providing illustrations of "the human condition." Rather, he's describing a particular place. And any resemblance of that place to your favorite place is up to you to discern.

Years ago, Mark told me that his professional mission was to continue in the footsteps of that true-life California superhero, Carey McWilliams. Like McWilliams and most all good poets, Mark conveys the violence, the strangeness and folly of what is closest at hand. What is closest at hand for Mark are people on the land of his birth. There were his moonshining buddies, waxing poetic around the rakhi still. There were the Hayat father and son of Lodi, California, swept away with the hot foam of 9-11 hysteria. And there was Eric Jones, a small-town boy who was nonchalantly tortured by neighbors, then shot in the back and left for dead in a cotton field near the huddle of tarpaper roofs that goes by the name of Allensworth, California.

In a story entitled "Eyre of the Storm," Arax describes former "leftie" attendees at the eighth annual Conspiracy Conference, the "Con Con," in Santa Clara, forty years after the Summer of Love. Over the course of the decades, a former student activist, now a teetotaling grandmother, had taken a "pilgrimage inward," from collective protest against to an ingrown obsession with nutty conspiracies. What are we to make of the fact that there are so many Arlenes out there--former leftwingers who wind up crackpots? Could it be that leftwing ideas attract cranks-in-gestation?
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Danielle R. Shapazian on April 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I just finished "West of the West" last night and I feel compelled to share my enthusiasm for this work. If this is the kind of book you'd never consider reading, I recommend it even more so.

I remember being in graduate school many years ago and gifting myself with the promise that as soon as I finished my studies "I could read anything I wanted to." In those days I resumed my love affair with books by gravitating toward fiction or memoir. To this day, non-fiction rarely grips me, often bores me, and sometimes just feels like work. I share this information only because if you are like me, this is NOT the kind of book you'd pick up at first blush.

Nevertheless, I STRONGLY urge you to spend some time in these pages. My bet is that you will experience a wonderful surprise: through keen storytelling, you will be exposed to social commentary that is respectful enough to give you room to come to your own conclusions. You'll glide over descriptive paragraphs that could have been plucked from a beautiful novel. Most remarkably, you'll bear witness to Arax making deeper sense of all of this by juxtaposing his own vulnerabilities as a man-and as a human being- onto the stories he tells.

Through his wonderful prose he masterfully reminds us that even though our personal experiences may vary, our own microcosms of truth, formed within the immensity that is California itself, are invariably more similar than not.

Take the journey with him.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By California book maven on April 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Brilliant. Arax gets California. His journey, both external and internal, offers intrigue, emotion and discovery at every turn.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Gary M. Olson on June 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I recently moved from the midwest to southern California, and of course though I knew about stereotypes, I had my ideas about what life in the West would be like. Mark Arax's well-written book has more than balanced my ideas of what the Golden State is like. The book contains a fascinating sample of portraits of different aspects of California, ranging across migrant labor, pot growing, the FBI, the home front re Iraq, and much more. It is a great read, no matter where you live, but it is especially great for someone like me who has recently moved to the state.
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