Thursday, April 17, 2008

God's Middle Finger

I just finished journalist/adventurer Richard Grant's account of his travels in Mexico called God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre. Here is the back-cover copy:

Twenty miles south of the Arizona-Mexico border, the rugged, beautiful Sierra Madre mountains begin their dramatic ascent. Almost 900 miles long, the range climbs to nearly 11,000 feet and boasts several canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. The rules of law and society have never taken hold in the Sierra Madre, which is home to bandits, drug smugglers, Mormons, cave-dwelling Tarahumara Indians, opium farmers, cowboys, and other assorted outcasts. Outsiders are not welcome; drugs are the primary source of income; murder is all but a regional pastime. The Mexican army occasionally goes in to burn marijuana and opium crops -- the modern treasure of the Sierra Madre -- but otherwise the government stays away. In its stead are the drug lords, who have made it one of the biggest drug-producing areas in the world.

Fifteen years ago, journalist Richard Grant developed what he calls "an unfortunate fascination" with this lawless place. Locals warned that he would meet his death there, but he didn't believe them -- until his last trip. During his travels Grant visited a folk healer for his insomnia and was prescribed rattlesnake pills, attended bizarre religious rituals, consorted with cocaine-snorting policemen, taught English to Guarijio Indians, and dug for buried treasure. On his last visit, his reckless adventure spiraled into his own personal heart of darkness when cocaine-fueled Mexican hillbillies hunted him through the woods all night, bent on killing him for sport.

With gorgeous detail, fascinating insight, and an undercurrent of dark humor, God's Middle Finger brings to vivid life a truly unique and uncharted world.
I've never been to Mexico. My knowledge of that country in general consists of eating at "Mexcian" restaurants in the USA. My knowledge of the Sierra Madre region in particular consists of watching The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart (an excellent movie based on a novel by a fascinating, mysterious figure known as B. Traven). This book was really interesting, but it left me with the main impression, "Wow, Mexico is a really violent, weird place."

I'm sure there are plenty of really nice parts of the country, however -- especially the tourist spots -- so I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at a nice weekend getaway south of the border. But take Richard Grant's journey? Never in a million years. Scary stuff. Here he is talking about it:

Now to assemble my summer reading list... for wherever I may spend it.