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So Far From God

"Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States." A new novel exposes that truth.

Book Cover Novelist Philip Caputo (Acts of Faith, A Rumor of War) skillfully interweaves the post-9/11 reality of drug cartels and immigrant hordes with the early 20th-century world of the Mexican-U.S. border in a multigenerational tale. The lives of a grieving widower, an illegal Mexican alien, and various narcotraficantes--as well as the hordes who give this story, Crossers (Knopf), its name--interact to form the best story set in this volatile landscape that I have read since I chanced to discover Don Winslow's great novel, The Power of the Dog. The border has its own culture and taxonomy, and Caputo's novel displays that in its manifold forms--along with a serviceable plot and sympathetic characters. And beyond the border of his recent fiction Caputo has logged some serious investigative time to write a compelling complement to Crossers that cautions: "The stakes for the U.S. are high, especially as the prospect of a failed state on our southern border begins to seem all too real." In the piece he spotlights a pandemic of slaughter that has claimed 14,000 lives amidst a struggle between drug lords, police, the army, politicians, and C.I.A.-sponsored operatives, and he asserts:
Of the many things Mexico lacks these days, clarity is near the top of the list. It is dangerous to know the truth. Finding it is frustrating. Statements by U.S. and Mexican government officials, repeated by a news media that prefers simple story lines, have fostered the impression in the United States that the conflict in Mexico is between Calderón's white hats and the crime syndicates' black hats...

What, then, accounts for the carnage, the worst Mexico has suffered since the revolution, a century ago? To be sure, many of the dead have been cartel criminals. Some were killed in firefights with the army, others in battles between the cartels for control of smuggling routes, and still others in power struggles within the cartels. The toll includes more than 1,000 police officers, some of whom, according to Mexican press reports, were executed by soldiers for suspected links to drug traffickers. Conversely, a number of the fallen soldiers may have been killed by policemen moonlighting as cartel hit men, though that cannot be proved. Meanwhile, human-rights groups have accused the military of unleashing a reign of terror--carrying out forced disappearances, illegal detentions, acts of torture, and assassinations--not only to fight organized crime but also to suppress dissidents and other political troublemakers. What began as a war on drug trafficking has evolved into a low-intensity civil war with more than two sides and no white hats, only shades of black. The ordinary Mexican citizen--never sure who is on what side, or who is fighting whom and for what reason--retreats into a private world where he becomes willfully blind, deaf, and above all, dumb.
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