8 Books That Illuminate the Crisis in Mexico

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“Mexico is on the brink,” the LA Times wrote last week, “and America is largely oblivious.” On November 7th, after more than a month of confusion over what became of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero, Mexico, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam announced that they had been executed and incinerated in the municipal dump of Cocula. The news, according to Francisco Goldman at the New Yorker, only deepens the feelings of “horror, indignation, sadness, disgust, and fear” for Mexicans, who are left wondering why anyone would murder so many innocents, who were apparently stopping in the city to get gas for a trip.

The situation in Mexico is complex. Between the mixture of corruption, narco-terror, and rampant impunity, it’s not easy to tell what’s going on, and it’s even harder for a concerned observer to understand the broader context for this persistent series of national tragedies. But there are several authors who have braved the situation in Mexico to write invaluable books that may help us to gain a better understanding of what’s happening there. Alongside Francisco Goldman’s heartbreaking writing for the New Yorker, here are several books that may help alert us to the deepening crisis in Mexico.

The Beast, Óscar Martínez

Several years ago, 300 migrants were abducted somewhere near between the desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. In The Beast, young, intrepid writer Óscar Martínez braves the migrant trail that stretches from Central America to beyond the US border, where 20,000 migrants are kidnapped each year. This book puts narco-trafficking in a broader inter- and intra-national context that highlights the danger and bravery of these migrants.

Murder City, Charles Bowden

A harrowing account of the total breakdown of Ciudad Juárez, a border city just miles from Texas, this book suggests that the city’s descent into femicide and anarchy is not restricted to the past: it’s quite possibly the North American future.

El Monstruo, John Ross

This account of Mexico City — which, if you’ve read the work of Francisco Goldman, you know has a complicated relationship to the violent disintegration of the Mexican provinces — takes the form of a history and a defense. It also takes the long view by giving the reader a bravura study of the city from pre-Columbian times up to the present.

Narcoland, Anabel Hernández

Author Anabel Hernández was assigned two full-time body guards after filing this investigative report into the mega-cartels of Mexico and greater Latin America. It also implicates the “politicians, functionaries, judges and entrepreneurs” who enable and perpetuate the constant state of emergency.

Dying for the Truth, the reporters of Blog Del Narco

This dual language book contains the posts of the independent reporters of Blog Del Narco, one of the most trafficked websites in Mexico. The blog documents the horrors of narcoterrorism, not only with its terrible, controversial images of beheadings and mutilations, but also with life-risking writing from within the fray.

El Narco, Ioan Grillo

This is one of the best accounts concerning “el Narco” and how narco-terrorism isn’t not strictly the result of gang life, but rather the machinations of a multi-billion dollar industry of corruption and greed that implicates many Americans. Grillo goes from top to bottom, not only getting inside reports from the cartels, but also by speaking with major Mexican and U.S. officials on the state of the drug wars.

Midnight in Mexico, Alfredo Corchado

In this insane book, author Alfredo Corchado gets a tip that he may be murdered by the Zetas, a paramilitary group, within 24 hours. Forced to find out of this is true, Corchado also reports on the narcos and broader government corruption at the very moment his life is at stake.

The Interior Circuit, Francisco Goldman

Brilliant, piercing, and illuminating, this memoir of life in Mexico City is one of the best books of the year. Francisco Goldman has recently taken to writing about the tragedy in Mexico for the New Yorker, and this book is an extension of the graciousness and intelligence you can find there. The Interior Circuit is not easy to describe — it’s sui generis take on grief and political upheaval — but as a persistently enlightening and often breathtaking account of life in Mexico, it’s impossible not to read. Especially strong is Goldman’s take on Mexico’s “cult of death,” which he disentangles from the American perception of Mexican violence.