Ciudad Juárez lies just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. A once-thriving border town, it now resembles a failed state. Infamously known as the place where women disappear, its murder rate exceeds that of Baghdad. Last year 1,607 people were killeda number that is on pace to increase in 2009.
In Murder City, Charles Bowdenone of the few journalists who has spent extended periods of time in Juárezhas written an extraordinary account of what happens when a city disintegrates. Interweaving stories of its inhabitantsa raped beauty queen, a repentant hitman, a journalist fleeing for his lifewith a broader meditation on the town’s descent into anarchy, Bowden reveals how Juárez’s culture of violence will not only worsen, but inevitably spread north.
Heartbreaking, disturbing, and unforgettable, Murder City establishes Bowden as one of our leading writers working at the height of his powers.
A firsthandish account of all the killings going on on the US/Mexico border in Texas because of the drug cartels.read more
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There are ways to describe a book and then there are ways again. When I told my wordprocessor to describe Charles Bowden's Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields, the machine needed about five seconds to compile the following facts:Not counting the appendices, Murder City consists of 124,109 syllables; 83,243 words (8,969 of which are big); 1,694 paragraphs. Of 5,494 sentences, 2,691 are short; 454 are long; 2,376 are simple sentences. The text averages 1.49 syllables per word, 15.15 words per sentence, and 3.36 sentences per paragraph. The book reads at grade level 8.5. Eight percent of the finite verb phrases are passive voice. Sentence Complexity rates a score of 35 on a scale of 0-100 (high scores read tougher), and Vocabulary rates 14 on a scale of 0-100 (high scores read tougher).Not satisfied with those numbers, I looked at blurbs on the back of the book. Luis Alberto Urrea wrote: "There are moments when the book threatens to burst into flames and burn your hands. Crawling with ghosts and demons, dripping blood, howling with rage and terror, it's a go-for-broke apocalyptic prophecy."I worried about burning my fingers but I'd never seen an apocalyptic prophecy go for broke, so I put on some old gloves and read Murder City anyway. Now I'm glad I took the chance. I read it all the way through and I didn't burn my hands or scorch my eyebrows. I didn't even get soot on my sofa. So much for other people's opinions -- though in fairness to Mr. Urrea I do have to say: Charles Bowden's Murder City is a mighty scary book.My sense of Murder City is that it's half novel and half journalism. All Mexican characters in the account speak from behind an alias and all Mexican characters who speak are allegorical. They represent different aspects of life on the ground in real-world Mexico. They duck in and out of the bloody narrative. Their words, their actions, their stories anchor incredible events in the real world and help readers make sense of the mayhem.One such character is a woman named "Miss Sinaloa." She is (or was) a drop-dead gorgeous, teenage beauty queen who came to Juárez to see her sister. She went to a party with some Juárez police officers. Seven or eight of them kidnapped her and held her for a week while they shot her full of dope, and beat her. They raped her savagely and continuously. They bit chunks out of her titties. Their thrusting tore holes in her vaginal walls. When at last they were through with Miss Sinaloa, the cops dumped what was left at a corral in the desert where a pathetic rescue operation feeds beans to homeless mental cases and drug addicts. She flopped there for many weeks before she recovered enough of her mind to call home and have her parents come get her."Pedro Martinez," 42 years old, is another allegory. Sodden with booze and drugs, Pedro is a piece of homeless, mental wreckage wrapped in reeking rags. He walks the streets of Juárez and El Paso when he isn't flopped at the shelter that rescued Miss Sinaloa. Asked why he spends all his time with drugs and wine, Pedro says he likes living that way. He's made it north of the border at least a half-dozen times. He claims he got married and had kids in Kentucky. In North Carolina (poor fellow) he got busted drunk driving. He's been in jails and institutions all over North America. It seems the most fun Pedro ever had was when a herd of gringo psychiatrists tried to diagnose his condition. The shrinks got tired of Pedro after some days of fruitless testing. So they hosed him down with pills, declared him a paranoid schizophrenic, and solved what they assumed were his problems by booting him back across the border into Juárez once again.Pedro's story brings a chuckle sometimes. But author Bowden isn't joking. "This happens," he writes. "The brain-damaged often fail to get serious notice from the authorities. But time is on the side of Pedro Martinez. Each day, there are more and more like him. The world is now designed to raise up huge crops of people just like him."Americans who don't live in combat zones may ask "What world is that?" Murder City describes just such a world. It's the kind of place in which a city of 1.3 million people experience more than 7,000 murders in less than 3 years. It's the kind of place where lucky people live on 60 bucks a week and walk around expecting to be shot at any moment. It's the kind of place in which no civilized person wants to live. It's called Juárez, Mexico, and though it may be more than 2,000 miles from wherever you live, the drug gangs who govern the place are expanding into your area as I write this review.The perils of Miss Sinaloa are the perils of civilized life in Mexico. Her travails are the shadows that stalk the streets and threaten every Mexican citizen. Pedro Martinez personifies the Mexican poor. His problems in the U.S. mirror U.S. government attempts to cope with the drug war and the tsunami of migrants. While the Mexican army fights Mexican police and Mexican gangsters for the riches of the drug trade, Mexico devolves into a crazy place where people eat beans (if they can afford beans). Mexicans endure government by goons and murderers while they live in poverty and filth. What happens to Pedro at the hands of the gringo psychiatrists is what happens to the nation of Mexico whenever gringo experts invent another crazy, doomed-to-fail, anti-drug policy that funnels more billions to the Mexican army and police.The fellow who runs the rescue corral where Miss Sinaloa landed -- author Bowden calls him "El Pastor" -- also wanders in and out of the narrative. His tales spotlight the indifference of churches and charities and other institutions in the face of the ongoing horror. There's a defrocked hit man, too, who has no name because the cartels put a $20,000 price on his head. He shows up every now and then. His ghoulish tales give readers a sense of the human climate in Juárez. He speaks for the mob's soldiers who, themselves, are nameless victims of a sort.The bulk of Murder City attempts to explain the 4,000 murders that took place during the calender years of 2008 and 2009. Bowden himself steps into the narrative now and then. He asks readers simple, pertinent questions which the Mexican press and Mexican authorities laughably claim they cannot answer. For those who don't believe Bowden's account, there's an appendix at the back of the book, a day-by-day log of newspaper articles from 2008 and 2009 that tell all anyone can ever know of those 4,000 murders. Of the thousands of Mexicans who have disappeared without a trace, there is and can never be an accounting.Solomon sez: Murder City is an important book. As journalism goes, Murder City is a work of art. Numbers can't describe it. No review can tell the half of it. Everybody should read it. Those who do will never forget it. Get the paperback: on page 233 there's "An Afterword for the Paperback Edition" that you do not want to miss.read more
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Bowden (Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing) grapples with the almost incomprehensible levels of violence in Juùrez, Mexico. Over 1,600 people were murdered in Juùrez in 2008; almost as many were murdered in the first half of 2009 and countless more have been kidnapped. Bowden tries to explain the escalation in violence, but explanation-even investigation-is impossible: witnesses don't come forward out of fear of the police; the police in turn are terrified of the military and the cartels. The military are apathetic and often complicit in the killing, as is the federal government. Journalists report the scantiest facts; many are paid off, and the rest fear the consequences of telling the truth. In the absence of hard facts, Bowden can offer only an impressionistic account of his own frustration at the collusion of police, media, federal government, and global economic forces in making inexorable violence the defining feature of daily life in the border town. This is a nonfiction book without facts, without a thesis, and without an argument; Bowden's sentences are gorgeous things, euphonious and deeply sincere-but the book offers no understanding or call to action, only resigned acceptance. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved