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The Beast

December 22, 2013 1 comment

thebeast

I have my next book lined up, once I finish Under Tower Peak. It will be Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, which came out in Spanish a few years ago, but is appearing in translation only now. From the book’s webpage:

One day a few years ago, 300 migrants were kidnapped between the remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got 120 released, many with broken ankles and other marks of abuse, but the rest vanished. Óscar Martínez, a young writer from El Salvador, was in Altar soon after the abduction, and his account of the migrant disappearances is only one of the harrowing stories he garnered from two years spent traveling up and down the migrant trail from Central America and across the US border. More than a quarter of a million Central Americans make this increasingly dangerous journey each year, and each year as many as 20,000 of them are kidnapped.

Martínez writes in powerful, unforgettable prose about clinging to the tops of freight trains; finding respite, work and hardship in shelters and brothels; and riding shotgun with the
border patrol. Illustrated with stunning full-color photographs, The Beast is the first book to shed light on the harsh new reality of the migrant trail in the age of the narcotraficantes.

I learned of The Beast Tuesday night in going through the Financial Times’ list of books of the year. Some ways down (it’s a long list), I came upon this recommendation of Junot Diaz:

The most extraordinary (and harrowing) book I read this year was Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail. This is a bravura act of frontline reporting that tracks the horror passage that many immigrants must survive (and some don’t) to reach the US from the south. These immigrants are preyed on by everyone and yet they cling to hope like they cling to the trains that will bring some of them to what they pray will be better lives. Beautiful and searing and impossible to put down.

That got my attention. Minutes later, I was looking at the Wednesday NYT online and realized this was the very book whose review I had passed over earlier in the evening. Larry Rohter concludes:

Migrants don’t just die, they’re not just maimed or shot or hacked to death,” Mr. Martínez writes. “The scars of their journey don’t only mark their bodies, they run deeper than that. Living in such fear leaves something inside them, a trace and a swelling that grabs hold of their thoughts and cycles through their head.” By capturing that grim reality, and in such gripping prose and detail, Mr. Martínez has both distinguished himself and done us all a vital public service.

Later I discovered that The Beast also shows up on the Economist’s list of books of the year:

Drawing on eight trips accompanying illegal migrants from Central America across the border into the United States. Oscar Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, does a beautiful job describing a world that is hellish, violent and depraved.

I’ve downloaded it and will begin reading soon.

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Categories: Books

Under Tower Peak

December 22, 2013 Leave a comment

undertowerpeak

A week ago, in writing about Ian Rankin’s latest crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, I mentioned learning of Bart Paul’s Under Tower Peak. The Wall Street Journal’s list of 2013’s ten best mysteries closes with this brief comment:

And “Under Tower Peak,” Bart Paul’s suspenseful debut, accompanies a pack-station guide in California’s Sierra Nevada through a hair-raising adventure starting with the mountaintop discovery of a dead billionaire inside a crashed plane.

The book appears to have been ignored by many of the usual reviewers, but it did get a full WSJ review last April by Tom Nolan. He opens by observing that

Bart Paul’s scenic and suspenseful debut novel, “Under Tower Peak,” a western thriller set in contemporary Sierra Nevada, displays some formidable influences—Hemingway’s, for instance, in the first-chapter opening: “Early in the season we rode up to the forks to fix the trail above the snow cabin. The winter had been good and the aspens had leafed out down in the canyon at the edges of the meadows. . . . The only sounds were the steady scuff of the horses’ hooves.” Shadows of Cormac McCarthy and Jim Harrison also flutter across the pages of this swift-moving tale, narrated by an Iraq-war veteran returned to the rugged terrain of his youth to work a few seasons as a cowboy and pack-station guide. “I always felt at home up in this country, the wilder the better,” says protagonist Tommy Smith partway into an unexpected adventure that proves as dangerous as anything he encountered in the military. “But now that big mountain half scared me to death.”

Nolan concludes that the

nonstop action in “Under Tower Peak” is well-paced, the plot twists surprising (even shocking) and the occasional humor welcome. In the end, it’s that right-stuff quality known as true grit that may save Tommy Smith’s bacon—and that elevates this fine first novel into a must-read book.

That’s enough for me. I’ve downloaded the book and gotten through the first chapter. No unexpected adventure or shocking plot twists yet. I’m ready.

Categories: Books