New Finds

Four Million Years

John Ross's Mexico City comes alive in his new tome, El Monstruo.

Book Cover Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto first called my attention to the distinction between residence and citizenship, pointing out that in France, living in Paris makes you Parisian, not French. I am almost tempted to say the same about residents of New York: New Yorkers first, United States citizens second.

Such is the evolution of urbanization in the post-national world, and as modernity couples with globalization, metropoli are in danger of losing their distinguishing character. Now comes another paean to Mexico City (after First Stop in the New World by David Lida, a decidedly different view). Unrepentant warrior for social justice, poet, peripatetic journalist John Ross (Murdered By Capitalism—150 Years of Life and Death on the American Left), a resident of the marvel that is Mexico City for nearly 30 years and an off and on visitor for 50 years, expresses such concerns in his new tome, El Monstruo Dread and Redemption in Mexico City (Nation Books). El Monstruo refers to proud Mexico’s capitol city, home to 23,000,000 people, or as Ross characterizes, “There are 23,000,000 stories in Mexico City, 22,999,997 busted dreams, and two or three tales of overweening ambition and craven success.”

And Ross’s book (ignore the cover, which is a graphic mongoloid) is a memoir of his life in the city arriving there just one week after the devastating earthquake of 1985, which killed 30,000 people. It’s a people’s history from prehistoric times through the Aztec-Mexicas era when the city was viewed as the umbilicus of the universe, to the 1968 massacre at Tlatelolco, to the roiling and precarious present. Finally, it is also an homage to the mega-city that Ross and untold others love.

John Ross’s prose is wonderfully lucid and laden with history and story—it seems as almost every sentence contains a fact or a germ of a story—you do begin to see this geography as a pulsating, living thing. Even if you have not had the pleasure of visiting Mexico City, John Ross’s El Monstruo is an extraordinary conveyance and a powerfully riveting experience.
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