CHARACTERS ↠ Mexico By Josh Barkan

Josh Barkan ó 1 CHARACTERS

CHARACTERS ↠ Mexico By Josh Barkan ¹ The unforgettable characters in Josh Barkan’s astonishing and beautiful story collection—chef architect nurse high school teacher painter beauty ueen classical bass player plastic surgeon businessman mime—are simply trying to lead their lives and steer clear of violence Yet inevitably crime has a way oLy well crafted and they tap into the most universal and enduring human experiences love even in the face of danger and loss the struggle to grow and keep faith amid hardship and conflict and the pursuit of authenticity and courage over apathy and oppression With unflinching honesty and exuisite tenderness Josh Barkan masterfully introduces us to characters that are full of life marking the arrival of a new and essential voice in American fictio. I enjoyed reading these stories very much They're smart and they present a view of contemporary Mexico that although it plays dangerously close to stereotype always ends up exposing the stereotype rather than succumbing to it The stories here unfold a bit like intellectual puzzles at times where the authornarrator seems to be trying to fit his storytelling into a given preset theme or thesis I didn't mind this approach here though because the themes were universally thought provoking I didn't mind feeling a bit boxed in by the writer's intent or bothered by my sense that the writer was laboring a bit to make a point because the points he made were interesting onesThe American expatriate in Mexico viewpoint was new to me and I enjoyed that viewpoint especially since I've read several novels in translation recently by Mexican authors including some that are exploring what it's like to be an expat living in the US

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The unforgettable characters in Josh Barkan’s astonishing and beautiful story collection chef architect nurse high school teacher painter beauty ueen classical bass player plastic surgeon businessman mime are simply trying to lead their lives and steer clear of violence Yet inevitably crime has a way of intruding on their lives all the same A surgeon finds himself forced into performing a risky procedure on a narco killer A teacher struggles t. I'm between 35 and 4 stars on this oneMexico has taken a bit of a bad rap in the last 18 months or so with Donald Trump using his criticism of Mexican immigrants as a launching pad for his now successful run for the American presidency Although Mexico has so much to offer the world—culture history beauty cuisine—all too often people choose instead to dwell on the incidence of crime drugs violence and poverty they see portrayed in the mediaUnfortunately Josh Barkan's new story collection aptly titled Mexico won't really help the country much with its reputation But like the country itself these stories are than you initially think much than violence crime drugs and poverty While not every story works taken as a whole this is a powerful collection that makes you thinkThe characters in Barkan's stories are for the most part ordinary people caught in the midst of extraordinary and in many cases unexpected situations The choices they choose to make the decisions they face aren't always the ones we would choose but they are often shaped by circumstances driven by the country itselfSome of my favorite stories in this collection were The God of Common Names in which a schoolteacher is caught in the middle of a Romeo and Juliet relationship between two of his students children of rival drug lords and he finds himself contemplating his own marriage which caused its own friction; I Want to Live which tells of a woman awaiting a doctor's appointment who becomes immersed in the life story of a fellow patient once a beauty ueen and minor celebrity; The Prison Breakout about a man working with prison inmates who gets obsessed with the innocence of one prisoner in particular; The Sharpshooter which tells of an American soldier and his best friend involved in a drug sting operation; and Everything Else is Going to Be Fine about a driven young man whose involvement in a bizarre incident forces him to confront what he has been hidingThe stories I liked most tended to be character driven than violence driven although violence played a role in each Some stories I felt were about violence and crime and didn't seem to ever rise above that Barkan is a tremendously talented writer who created characters and plots which packed a punch no pun intended and made you feel for the situations in which the characters found themselvesAfter a while though the stories started to feel very similar and very bleak and the collection became harder to slog through There were only so many kidnaps and murders and assaults I could read about and I felt the stories toward the end of the collection became a little one note But then one of the earlier stories would flash through my mind and I would realize that while this may be an uneven collection it's a pretty well written and powerful one rooted in the reality of today's worldNetGalley and Crown Publishing provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review Thanks for making this available See all of my reviews at

CHARACTERS Mexico By Josh Barkan

Mexico By Josh BarkO protect lovestruck students whose forbidden romance has put them in mortal peril A painter’s freewheeling ways land him in the back of a kidnapper’s car Again and again the walls between “ordinary life” and cartel violence are shown to be paper thin and when they collapse the conseuences are life changingThese are stories about transformation and danger passion and heartbreak terror and triumph They are funny deeply moving and stunning. These 12 stories follow residents of Mexico City and its outlying areas as they negotiate their inevitable interactions with drug cartels We meet a variety of characters chef architects 2 painters 3 migrants US Soldiers a beauty ueen a nurse and writerjournalists 2 most of whom come from the United States or have strong cultural ties to it Nearly every story begins with some version of “down here in Mexico things are different” Different means things are cheaper chaotic and often corrupt You can’t expect the same services justice or fulfillment of the social contract as you can in the wealthier neighbor up north Also subsumed in these pronouncements is the idea that Mexicans generally are just less culturally adept So far behind the curve are they that a middling New York chef can open a restaurant in el DF and expect to be considered novel because he makes fusion cuisine Some of the premises upon which these stories are built are pretty strong What’s to be done when El Chapo walks into your restaurant and challenges you to a culinary double or nothing How can a plastic surgeon survive after a narco dies on his operating table How do you recover after being kidnapped and having a finger removed There are some scenes in which the setting is startlingly evoked A runner jogging over the overpasses of the city A gangster trying to get admission into an art gallery There are moments of fascinating clarity into the lives of those afflicted by drug violence As when a private school administrator decides there’s nothing to be done about a narco interfering with a student romance We discussed the possibility of expelling both of them because of the threat of violence in school but we laughed at the very moment we said this That may have been the right punishment but you don’t play God with the cartels you accommodate yourselves to themThere are several problems with the book though starting with the title Mexico is problematic as this book doesn’t do much to define much of the country beyond the American ex pat community near Mexico City The Spanish language translation’s title Sangre Sudor y Mexico is a little diverse in its purported aspirations It's possible though that the author had no choice in the title so it's not really fair to fault him for this My major problems with the book had to do with the craft elements the generic description and the underhwelming style It was a windy sunny day three weeks after Jose’s father had come into the classroom The days were getting longerSpring was in the air even though the seasons don’t change all that much in Mexico City But it felt like a spring day with a gentle breezeNote how the author falls over himself to convey the weather outside 6x incorporating the tired cartoon cliché “Spring was in the air” And again She had caged birds in her house in large cages I had to regularly cleanchokengistitikchokeng 47 How else do you define a caged bird See this missed opportunity for specificity on p 65 “I consider myself proudly from Mexico but I’m a citizen of the world I’m as happy eating sushi in Tokyo as having a uesadilla on the streets of Mexico City” You can have a uesadilla in Disneyland What makes this character’s view of the world different from stock character expectations Tell us something we don't know and couldn't have guessed “After spraying bullets back and forth like the roar of infected lions screaming at each other one of the cars suddenly drove off” chokengistitikchokeng 135What the hell does an infected lion scream sound like What are they infected with Why are they screaming What sounds like an infected lion here the bullets The suddenly driving car Lord help us Again with the pointless unconsidered repetitions “Staring at the canvas in the descending light of the evening as it bent through the fiberglass patches in the roof and slapped against the canvas in harsh dots of light the light reflected off the white canvas like emergency lights in bright oranges and reds He watched the light move across the canvas lost in the sundial” p 148This for me was the coup de grace “The day it all began if you can really pinpoint a single moment when an avalanche begins was on a soccer field or what we called in Mexico the fútbol field” p 216C’mon dude Everyone knows 'soccer' is called 'fútbol' in Mexico Tell us the origins or significance de una cancha instead This is the problem throughout A lackluster under specificity along with a reliance on stock images and cliché Add to this the facile observations and overly simplified plots the fact that despite moments of peril no characters are actually harmed or damaged less one who loses a finger by their decisions or those of the Mexican cartels There’s no real risk for anyone here I know at the beginning of a story that the main character might get a scar on the hand but will arrive the end mostly unscathed There are at least two Mafia style shakedowns where people are told to take off their pants and dance One character opines to another “It takes two to build a wall” Even given the relative suddenness of the political reality this printed book now lives in and the relative slowness of the publishing industry this unconsidered metaphor deserved a second look I just wanted so badly for this book to be better I wanted to learn about the real Mexico than what’s offered in Hollywood clichés and stereotypes Yes Mexico is violent there's no uestion about that I don't think the author's portrayal of violence is inaccurate It's the cardboard version of everything else that I find problematic As Publisher’s Weekly opined For a collection about such a vibrant complex country the writer’s reliance on generalities is disappointing “Mexico was a place of tamales and tacos mariachi bands and guacamole” as if its details were sourced not from experience but from a tour guideAlas