Book news, signings, and author appearances this week
The Wonders of Globalization
In 1996, a GMC truck packed with 27 undocumented Mexican migrants flew off the road on its way to the California border, killing eight of the passengers. The driver -- in Mexico, smugglers are known as coyotes -- had been drinking and snorting coke, and no one can seem to agree whether the Border Patrol was actually pursuing the truck in a high-speed chase or discreetly following a clearly overburdened vehicle whose fenders were almost scraping its tires. In Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail (Metropolitan Books, $26), Rubén Martínez, an associate editor at Pacific News Service and the author of two previous books about L.A., takes what seems like a finite story -- what happened in Cherán, an Indian town in the highlands of Michoacán and the hometown of Benjamín, Jaime, and Salvador Chávez, after they all died in the crash -- and makes it an irresistibly compelling and global read about the absurdity of living in a place where one-third of the population leaves every spring and returns every October a little bit more American. "All sides share in the responsibility for these deaths," a priest in Cherán tells Martinéz. "It's like a chain. The coyotes make money off the people who cross, and the farmers in America make money off them, too, and of course, the families and the government in Mexico are remunerated as well. It's a chain looped over many gears. We can't say that it begins in Chéran or in the United States. It's everywhere at once."
When Martinéz arrived in Cherán, he found the Chávez brothers' mother, doña Maria Elena, their sister Rosa, and brother Fernando in a state of subdued shock. "When you make that journey you're thinking about your dreams," Fernando says, "that things are going to get better, that you're going to be able to support your family, give your kids an education." But soon enough, it is time for them to worry about migration all over again: Rosa's husband Wense Cortéz has to decide whether he will return to St. Louis without his wife, who is helping her mother recover from grief. Wense could get a job in Cherán, but why would he when he's paid 20 times more in the U.S.? "To take such jobs here would be a step backward and a blow to his pride," Martinéz explains.
Martínez, who will be at BookPeople on Friday, October 26, at 7pm, doesn't hide his anger about selective enforcement of border immigration policy, but Crossing Over isn't meant only for leftist policy wonks. The minute and fascinating details -- the debacles in Cherán between brujos, the Indian witch healers, and traditional doctors; the truly bizarre ways in which Americana has infiltrated a small town in southern Mexico -- make this one of the most impressive books to be published this year.
The End of Irony?
We all know the social critique novel. The most famous recent incarnation is Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, too famous for its author's good judging from his statement to The Portland Oregonian that he had considered turning down joining Oprah's Book Club, a consideration she helped him solidfy this week by dropping him from the Club. The novel as critique of consumerism is necessary, but hasn't it also become a bit predictable? Michener Center graduate Alex Shakar ably tackles and messes with the form in his first novel, The Savage Girl (Morrow, $26), in which "trendologist" Ursula Van Urden arrives in Middle City to determine why her sister attempted suicide. Primitivism and postirony: They're both here in a fiercely original and intelligent way. Shakar will be at BookPeople on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 7pm.