Book Reviews

Review: Mexico: Stories by Josh Barkan

Mexico: Stories by Josh Barkan

Do you fear daily for your life? This collection of short stories examines the lives of those who are afraid of the gang violence in Mexico. It is clever, real, and violent. The stories represent various characters and aspects of Mexico ranging from the gang violence, masculine culture, and the search for justice. The characters range from childhood soccer hero to professor to classical musician to plastic surgeon. All of their lives interact with real acts of danger and the collective desires for faith and justice.

There is a smell to the country that one comes from that is either necessity, a smell that cannot be left because it gives you your whole identity, the culture which cradles you and gives you your sense of purpose and norm and a sense of daily routine; or a smell which, for me…would always be the smell of blood and fear (238).

I was hooked from the very first story. It was a combination of the taboo, the blind obsession, and the cleverness that grabbed my interest. Maybe the first story was written for me, but afterwards I felt that some of the stories were more interesting than others. I could relate or understand certain characters more than others. That is inevitable with any anthology where some stories resonate more than others. Something that kept the individual short stories from resonating with me more, was the lack of female protagonists. While disappointing in that regard, it was not a deal breaker. Issues of poverty, violence, and rape create the foundation for explorations of faith, (in)justice, and our undeniable desire to survive. Each story presents, with varying levels of success, interesting angles and fascinating characters.

I’m not sure what the purpose of life is, but I can tell you this, every person has a reason to be on earth, and that reason isn’t to be kidnapped, isn’t to die in some war, isn’t to end up some puffy body left in a trench or to be the residue of some crazy drug war, like what they’ve got down in Mexico now…the purpose of life is to sing…to sing metaphorically, to sing in some way of beauty, to raise the spirits of our voices in hope (84).

The stories balance an alienating feeling of violence with universal feelings of courage, love, and loss. Underneath the initial feelings of discomfort, the uncensored depictions of violence, we recognize that they are essentially no different from us: despite the contrast from their lives to ours. This collection of short stories does not shy away from the hard questions and is able to, in a very short amount of time, communicate more with fewer words. You can buy it here.

What is your favorite book that deals with gang violence?

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from First to Read.

Book cover image from here.


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6 thoughts on “Review: Mexico: Stories by Josh Barkan

  1. Your review has nudged me out of my comfort level of reading material, and I plan to seek out this book and experience all the various levels of emotion as a reader that you describe. Thank you!

    1. yeah I think it’s a bit like an emotional roller coaster! it can be a bit graphic though, because it deals with gang violence for example

  2. Sounds like it could be a good book to add to my school collection since we are in an inner city school district. I haven’t read a lot of books about gang violence, but probably the one that I’ve read that stuck out to me the most was We Were Here by Matt de la Pena, and I’m not sure how much was actually gang related in it. Great review!

    1. Oh, then that sounds like a good idea! definitely read it first and see if it’s good for them. I have to check that out!!

  3. I haven’t read any contemporary novels about gang violence but Lord of The Flies could be transposed to any place or time. It’s that ‘us or them’ macho mindset that I suppose comes from a survival instinct. Add in ego, greed, drugs, guns and knives into the mix and you’ve got the chaos that govern many of our cities.

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