The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle

Overview

Coming off the most successful book of a decorated career—Say Her NameThe Interior Circuit is Francisco Goldman’s timely and provocative journey into the heart of Mexico City.

The Interior Circuit is Goldman’s story of his emergence from grief five years after his wife’s death, symbolized by his attempt to overcome his fear of driving in the city. Embracing the DF (Mexico City) as his home, Goldman explores and celebrates the city, which stands defiantly apart from so many of ...

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The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle

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Overview

Coming off the most successful book of a decorated career—Say Her NameThe Interior Circuit is Francisco Goldman’s timely and provocative journey into the heart of Mexico City.

The Interior Circuit is Goldman’s story of his emergence from grief five years after his wife’s death, symbolized by his attempt to overcome his fear of driving in the city. Embracing the DF (Mexico City) as his home, Goldman explores and celebrates the city, which stands defiantly apart from so many of the social ills and violence wracking Mexico. This is the chronicle of an awakening, both personal and political, “interior” and “exterior,” to the meaning and responsibilities of home. Mexico’s narco war rages on and, with the restoration of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (the PRI) to power in the summer’s 2012 elections, the DF’s special apartness seems threatened. In the summer of 2013, when Mexican organized crime violence and death erupts in the city in an unprecedented way, Goldman sets out to try to understand the menacing challenges the city now faces. By turns exuberant, poetic, reportorial, philosophic, and urgent, The Interior Circuit fuses a personal journey to an account of one of the world’s most remarkable and often misunderstood cities.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 05/05/2014
In this exquisite chronicle, novelist and journalist Goldman (Say Her Name) takes readers into the heart of Mexico City, showcasing its vibrant complexity and grit. Grieving for his young wife Aura’s death five years earlier, Goldman explores his relationship with her native city against the backdrop of its changing leadership—a result of the 2012 presidential elections that restored the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power after a 12-year absence. As Goldman notes, the Districto Federal (D.F.), as Mexico City is commonly known, mainly avoided the “catastrophe of the murderous narco war” because of the progressive leadership of mayors from the left-leaning opposing party, the PRD. Now with the PRI—and its ominous ties to the drug cartels—back in power, not even the D.F. seems immune to kidnappings and escalating violence. A perceptive, funny, and philosophical narrator, Goldman investigates the kidnappings of 12 youths in broad daylight; traces the evolution of a student movement, #YoSoy132, formed to protest the candidacy—and eventual election—of presidential candidate Peña Nieto; overcomes his fear of driving in a megacity of 22 million; and ponders the differences between Mexico and the U.S. in their approaches to culture, friendship, and grief. Throughout this remarkable book, Goldman is highly attuned to the pulse and rhythm of one of the world’s most captivating cities. Agency: ICM. (July)
From the Publisher
Praise for THE INTERIOR CIRCUIT

One of New York magazine's "7 Books You Need to read this July"; An Amazon "Best of" pick for July

"So sneakily brilliant it's hard to put into words. Part travelogue, part memoir, part reportage on Mexican politics and the scourge of narco-terrorism, it is also, in the finest sense, a book that creates its own form....the genius of "The Interior Circuit," [is that it] link[s] Goldman's grief for Aura to the grief of all these families and indeed of Mexico. It's an audacious move, but it works because of the offhand beauty of the writing, which shifts from individual to collective with the fluid grace of circumstance."—David Ulin Los Angeles Times

"An indispensable contribution to the growing body of artistic representations of Mexico’s most recent years of darkness...there is an urgent, raw beauty in Frank’s prose, as if we are plugged into an only slightly edited version of his journals, and it is full of “cortos”: journal gives way to reportage, reportage to lament, lament to polemic, polemic to erudite rumination...Frank throws himself into the Heavens case with tremendous journalistic energy, badgering officials, cultivating confidential sources, scouring what looks like just about every press account, and, most importantly and at some risk, by crossing the social border and stepping into the old barrio to interview the relatives of the disappeared...Here Frank joins a growing crew of writers (among them Marcela Turati, Oscar Martínez, Cristina Rivera Garza, John Gibler, Magali Tercero, Sergio González Rodríguez, Diego Osorno, Daniel Hernández, Lydia Cacho, Anabel Hernández*) who undertake dogged investigative journalism — the kind there is precious little support for in the digital age, and which in the Latin American context can get you killed — and dedicate themselves to revealing the victims, itself an eminently political (and also spiritual) task that is the heart of Javier Sicilia’s movement...Interior Circuit confronts the corto, the short-circuit, as in too-brief-is-our-time, by recognizing the absurdity of both “freakish” and politicized death, and of the necessity of mourning both intimately and in community — of reconnecting the broken circuit with the language of pain itself."—Rubén Martínez,Los Angeles Review of Books

"Much of the pleasure of The Interior Circuit builds on Goldman's knowledge and love of Mexico City and his unabashed personalization of its streets and student dives....If The Interior Circuit is partly Goldman's chronicle of overcoming personal sorrow, it is even more his take on the politics, complexity, romance and vibrancy of one of the great megacities of the world."—Shelf Awareness

"Exquisite...perceptive, funny, and philosophical...Throughout this remarkable book, Goldman is highly attuned to the pulse and rhythm of one of the world’s most captivating cities."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This book is an exquisite, deeply funny, truly gorgeous panorama of Mexico City by a writer of enormous sensitivities who notices everything. This book will charm and urgently engage you like no other, because it is so totally original. It includes the dirty parts.”—Rachel Kushner

Praise for SAY HER NAME

“Quietly devastating . . . Powerful . . . As the story builds—inevitably, unbearably—toward Aura’s last day, Goldman has so convincingly brought her to life that her death still somehow comes as a shock. . . . Goldman’s beautifully written, deeply felt ode to his wife . . . lets you meet this unusual woman through Goldman’s lovestruck gaze, and you can’t help falling for her a little too. Even after the book ends, the sting of Aura’s absence lingers.” —Entertainment Weekly (A-)

"A masterpiece of storytelling and scene-setting."—Colm Toibin, The Guardian (Best Books of 2011)

"Goldman's searing novel Say Her Name is for me the book of the year. . . . A soaring paean to a brilliant young woman and to the infinite invincible power of love."—Junot Diaz, New York (Favorite Books of the Year)

“Passionate and moving . . . Beautifully written… the truth that emerges in this book has less to do with the mystery of [Aura’s] death . . . than with the miracle of the astonishing, spirited, deeply original young woman Goldman so adored….So remarkable is this resurrection that at times I felt the book itself had a pulse.”—The New York Times Book Review

“To call Francisco Goldman’s book about the death of his young Mexican wife an elegy hardly represents it. Lament is closer, but insufficient. It is a chain of eruptions, a meteor shower; not just telling but bombarding us in a loss that glitters. With the power and fine temper of its writing, it is as much poem as prose. . . . Tense set pieces, respectively heartbreaking and chilling…generate the book’s propulsive drama. What they propel, though, is its most remarkable achievement: the incandescent portrait of a marriage of opposites.”—The Boston Globe

"Say Her Name brings something new to the rime of the grieving survivor: fresh supplies of imagination, ruthlessness and over-the-edge crazy love. . . . The intensity, tenderness and heat of this love is extraordinary; how many of us have ever been loved so well? Or would recognize such love, were it not laid out with such intelligence and precision?” —Newsday

“[Say Her Name] is exhilarating, a testament to love that questions our suppositions about luck, fate, good fortune, and tragedy, and demands our agency in interpreting the narrative arc of an altered life. . . . Goldman’s novel stands as an incisive, diamond-sharp act of love.” —Vanity Fair

“Extraordinary . . . The more deeply you have loved in your life, the more this book will wrench you. . . . In a voice that is alternately lush and naked, lyrical and sardonic, philosophical and wry . . . Say Her Name will transport you into the most primal joy in the human repertoire—the joy of loving…[It] pushes back against the tides of forgetting, and gives Aura a new body, a literary body, to inhabit—a body so vivid that by the end of the book we feel as though we ourselves have met and loved this woman.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Beautiful, raw, haunting . . . [Say Her Name is] a working diagram of love, all its wiring and bolts. . . . Losing a spouse is like contracting an incurable illness. Many medicines will be essayed [but] the only real cure is the return of the lost. Writing a book must present itself as the next best remedy, given . . . how many writers have had recourse to its purgative powers: Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Calvin Trillin. . . All wrote memorable books about losing their mates. These are essential volumes in the library of grief and remembrance; with Say Her Name, the inimitable powers of poetic fiction are added to the memorial shelf. . . . Writing like this, immediate, hopeful, vibrant, can only be considered an act of creative restoration. It is also a prayer to prevent another loss: forgetting." —Melissa H. Pierson, The Barnes & Noble Review

“A heartbreaking novel of loss and grief.”—O Magazine

“Goldman has called on his formidable resources to tell the story of Aura’s life, their life together and his grief as a widower. . . . Harrowing and often splendid reading . . . these pages manage to bring Aura Estrada back to life. She is unforgettable. Count me glad and grateful to know her name.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Riveting . . . In giving Aura’s imagination—as well as her impish humor, her anxieties, her academic and creative struggles, her writing, her love—room to play, Goldman, remarkably, vividly, brings her to life.” —Bookpage

“An earthy, sexy book . . . Say Her Name resonates with sense of place and grasp of character. . . . [Goldman] describes Aura so vividly it is as though she regains life as a free spirit of remarkable imagination.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"In telling the story of an exuberant young woman coming into her own as a scholar and writer, [Francisco Goldman] finds a kind of haunted solace—and tremendous commemorative power...Published as fiction, Goldman's tribute to his late wife rings devastatingly true." —Vogue

“Goldman's power of description lulls you into forgetting that you're reading a tragedy. . . . He blurs the line between lover and biographer. . . . [Say Her Name] is a map of grief and work and missed chances " —NPR.org

“[Say Her Name] unfolds as a sequence of long flashbacks leading toward Aura’s death, which ticks grimly through the narrative like a bomb. . . . Trapped in a Chinese puzzle box of anguish, [Francisco Goldman] revisits moments, words, thoughts, anecdotes and images. His life with Aura seems still to be happening inside him, playing itself over and over, inevitably interrupted but never ended.” —The Washington Post

Say Her Name is the real thing—350 mesmerizing pages that don’t fit the usual script. . . . Honest and exquisitely written . . . alove story with real emotional power.” —The Seattle Times

“Wrenching . . . The story moves inexorably toward [Aura’s] death, but along the way it beautifully preserves the mementos of her life . . . touched with essential and painful wisdom about love.” —Wall Street Journal

"Thanks to Goldman’s powers of revivification, Aura [is] about as forgettable as Cleopatra. Both a beautiful evocation of love and loss, and a searing dispatch written from within a personal Ground Zero. . . . [Say Her Name is] the must-read novel of the summer.” —Sunday Times (UK)

“This is a beautiful love story, and an extraordinary story of loss. Say Her Name has a forensic honesty, a way of treating each detail, each moment, each emotion, with detailed and exact care. It also has a way of holding the reader, of moving between Brooklyn and Mexico City, capturing the essence of two worlds, capturing the essence of two people who were lucky enough to fall in love.” —Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn

"There is beautiful writing in this book—beautiful, perceptive descriptions of places, beautifully turned assaults on the citadel of loss, on the firmament of love and passion, indelible glimpses of the self as bedlam. And thank goodness it's so, because it is such a sad story that only beauty could possibly redeem it." —Richard Ford

“We may feel we know something about love’s burn, the scorching heat of loss, but reading this book is to stand in front of a blow-torch, to take a farrier’s rasp to raw nerve ends. Say Her Name is wrenching, funny, powerful, and beautiful.” —Annie Proulx

“The madness of love, of death, of loss, of literature—Say Her Name is madness knit up into magnificence. We can only suspect that Francisco Goldman is an alchemist, or a magician, or a Faust, or a Job, or all of these things, for with no breathing equipment, he has mined a pearl from the ocean’s darkest depths. This book is fabulous in every sense of the word.” —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

“A beautiful act of remembrance, love and understanding. An essential, unforgettable love story and a living testament to an extraordinary woman.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

From the Publisher

Praise for SAY HER NAME

“Quietly devastating . . . Powerful . . . As the story builds—inevitably, unbearably—toward Aura’s last day, Goldman has so convincingly brought her to life that her death still somehow comes as a shock. . . . Goldman’s beautifully written, deeply felt ode to his wife . . . lets you meet this unusual woman through Goldman’s lovestruck gaze, and you can’t help falling for her a little too. Even after the book ends, the sting of Aura’s absence lingers.” —Entertainment Weekly (A-)

"A masterpiece of storytelling and scene-setting."—Colm Toibin, The Guardian (Best Books of 2011)

"Goldman's searing novel Say Her Name is for me the book of the year. . . . A soaring paean to a brilliant young woman and to the infinite invincible power of love."—Junot Diaz, New York (Favorite Books of the Year)

“Passionate and moving . . . Beautifully written… the truth that emerges in this book has less to do with the mystery of [Aura’s] death . . . than with the miracle of the astonishing, spirited, deeply original young woman Goldman so adored….So remarkable is this resurrection that at times I felt the book itself had a pulse.”—The New York Times Book Review

“To call Francisco Goldman’s book about the death of his young Mexican wife an elegy hardly represents it. Lament is closer, but insufficient. It is a chain of eruptions, a meteor shower; not just telling but bombarding us in a loss that glitters. With the power and fine temper of its writing, it is as much poem as prose. . . . Tense set pieces, respectively heartbreaking and chilling…generate the book’s propulsive drama. What they propel, though, is its most remarkable achievement: the incandescent portrait of a marriage of opposites.”—The Boston Globe

"Say Her Name brings something new to the rime of the grieving survivor: fresh supplies of imagination, ruthlessness and over-the-edge crazy love. . . . The intensity, tenderness and heat of this love is extraordinary; how many of us have ever been loved so well? Or would recognize such love, were it not laid out with such intelligence and precision?” —Newsday

“[Say Her Name] is exhilarating, a testament to love that questions our suppositions about luck, fate, good fortune, and tragedy, and demands our agency in interpreting the narrative arc of an altered life. . . . Goldman’s novel stands as an incisive, diamond-sharp act of love.” —Vanity Fair

“Extraordinary . . . The more deeply you have loved in your life, the more this book will wrench you. . . . In a voice that is alternately lush and naked, lyrical and sardonic, philosophical and wry . . . Say Her Name will transport you into the most primal joy in the human repertoire—the joy of loving…[It] pushes back against the tides of forgetting, and gives Aura a new body, a literary body, to inhabit—a body so vivid that by the end of the book we feel as though we ourselves have met and loved this woman.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Beautiful, raw, haunting . . . [Say Her Name is] a working diagram of love, all its wiring and bolts. . . . Losing a spouse is like contracting an incurable illness. Many medicines will be essayed [but] the only real cure is the return of the lost. Writing a book must present itself as the next best remedy, given . . . how many writers have had recourse to its purgative powers: Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Calvin Trillin. . . All wrote memorable books about losing their mates. These are essential volumes in the library of grief and remembrance; with Say Her Name, the inimitable powers of poetic fiction are added to the memorial shelf. . . . Writing like this, immediate, hopeful, vibrant, can only be considered an act of creative restoration. It is also a prayer to prevent another loss: forgetting." —Melissa H. Pierson, The Barnes & Noble Review

“A heartbreaking novel of loss and grief.”—O Magazine

“Goldman has called on his formidable resources to tell the story of Aura’s life, their life together and his grief as a widower. . . . Harrowing and often splendid reading . . . these pages manage to bring Aura Estrada back to life. She is unforgettable. Count me glad and grateful to know her name.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Riveting . . . In giving Aura’s imagination—as well as her impish humor, her anxieties, her academic and creative struggles, her writing, her love—room to play, Goldman, remarkably, vividly, brings her to life.” —Bookpage

“An earthy, sexy book . . . Say Her Name resonates with sense of place and grasp of character. . . . [Goldman] describes Aura so vividly it is as though she regains life as a free spirit of remarkable imagination.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"In telling the story of an exuberant young woman coming into her own as a scholar and writer, [Francisco Goldman] finds a kind of haunted solace—and tremendous commemorative power...Published as fiction, Goldman's tribute to his late wife rings devastatingly true." —Vogue

“Goldman's power of description lulls you into forgetting that you're reading a tragedy. . . . He blurs the line between lover and biographer. . . . [Say Her Name] is a map of grief and work and missed chances " —NPR.org

“[Say Her Name] unfolds as a sequence of long flashbacks leading toward Aura’s death, which ticks grimly through the narrative like a bomb. . . . Trapped in a Chinese puzzle box of anguish, [Francisco Goldman] revisits moments, words, thoughts, anecdotes and images. His life with Aura seems still to be happening inside him, playing itself over and over, inevitably interrupted but never ended.” —The Washington Post

Say Her Name is the real thing—350 mesmerizing pages that don’t fit the usual script. . . . Honest and exquisitely written . . . alove story with real emotional power.” —The Seattle Times

“Wrenching . . . The story moves inexorably toward [Aura’s] death, but along the way it beautifully preserves the mementos of her life . . . touched with essential and painful wisdom about love.” —Wall Street Journal

"Thanks to Goldman’s powers of revivification, Aura [is] about as forgettable as Cleopatra. Both a beautiful evocation of love and loss, and a searing dispatch written from within a personal Ground Zero. . . . [Say Her Name is] the must-read novel of the summer.” —Sunday Times (UK)

“This is a beautiful love story, and an extraordinary story of loss. Say Her Name has a forensic honesty, a way of treating each detail, each moment, each emotion, with detailed and exact care. It also has a way of holding the reader, of moving between Brooklyn and Mexico City, capturing the essence of two worlds, capturing the essence of two people who were lucky enough to fall in love.” —Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn

"There is beautiful writing in this book—beautiful, perceptive descriptions of places, beautifully turned assaults on the citadel of loss, on the firmament of love and passion, indelible glimpses of the self as bedlam. And thank goodness it's so, because it is such a sad story that only beauty could possibly redeem it." —Richard Ford

“We may feel we know something about love’s burn, the scorching heat of loss, but reading this book is to stand in front of a blow-torch, to take a farrier’s rasp to raw nerve ends. Say Her Name is wrenching, funny, powerful, and beautiful.” —Annie Proulx

“The madness of love, of death, of loss, of literature—Say Her Name is madness knit up into magnificence. We can only suspect that Francisco Goldman is an alchemist, or a magician, or a Faust, or a Job, or all of these things, for with no breathing equipment, he has mined a pearl from the ocean’s darkest depths. This book is fabulous in every sense of the word.” —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

“A beautiful act of remembrance, love and understanding. An essential, unforgettable love story and a living testament to an extraordinary woman.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

Say Her Name is a tender and sacred narrative, many-angled, fearless, incandescent in its frankness. As I read it, I felt I were reading something more alive than life itself, and thought this is surely why one reads, why one writes: that one might mingle oneself with a beloved person, a book, a landscape, and hold it utterly alive.” —Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss

“Enrapturing . . . Vivid . . . Goldman has entwined fact and fiction in his previous novels, but never so daringly or so poignantly. . . . Tender, candid, sorrowful, and funny, this ravishing novel embodies the relentless power of the sea, as hearts are exposed like a beach at low tide only to be battered by a resurgent, obliterating force, like the wave that claims Aura’s life on the Oaxaca coast. Out of crushing loss and despair, Goldman has forged a radiant and transcendent masterpiece.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Moving and tragic . . . gorgeous, heartbreaking.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Electric and poignant.”—Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

"The feeling, the memorial incarnation that this book creates, is monumental. Essential . . . This book about tragic death is a gift for the living." —Library Journal (starred review)

Say Her Name must be the only book about love ever written. It's certainly the only one I'll ever need to read. Francisco Goldman has alchemized grief into joy, death into life, and the act of reading into one of resurrection. His book is a miracle.” —Susan Choi

“Francisco Goldman tells us that in ‘descending into memory like Orpheus’ he hopes he might ‘bring Aura out alive for a moment.’ But in the act of writing, Goldman transcends the constraints of myth, and achieves nothing short of the impossible. Page by page, by the breath of his own words, Say Her Name restores Aura from shade to flesh, and returns her, unforgettably and permanently, to our world.” —Jhumpa Lahiri

“Francisco Goldman’s intimate and elegiac tribute to his late wife initially reads like the latest entry in a long list of tragic love stories starting with Orpheus and Eurydice. That alone would suffice to make this a compelling read. But Goldman goes further . . . [From] Aura’s diaries, laptop and handwritten notes . . . Pygmalion-like, Goldman reconstructs a fully rounded, wise, soulful, funny Aura. . . . Say Her Name sustains Aura Estrada for the ages.” —Washington Independent Book Review

Say Her Name is part mystery, part biography, part meditation on grief, and, finally—mostly—a love story. Goldman’s writing has astonished me in the past, but Say Her Name is powerful and surprising and even funny in ways that feel unique. He has, in a sense, invented a form.” —The Paris Review online

"Not only beautifully written, but an incredible portrait of a marriage and the tragedy that eventually pulls it apart."—Devyani Saltzman, The Globe and Mail (Favorite Book of the Year)

“This book lingers in the spell of love, drawing it out, savoring each note, each dissonance, its mystical strangeness. . . Say Her Name shimmers with power.” —Zyzzyva

“A beguiling, many-layered portrait of a happy marriage…and a gut-wrenching account of being its sole survivor.” —The St. Petersburg Times

“An exceptional book . . . A love letter to a woman who could have been a great writer . . . A letter of goodbye from a man falling apart…an amazing tribute, beautifully written, reminiscent of the vulnerability of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.” —The Independent (UK)

“Sensitive [and] elegiac . . . A luminously loving account . . . Say Her Name is a work of raw grief refined into lyrical elegance.” —Sunday Telegraph (UK)

Praise for ART OF POLITICAL MURDER

“Francisco Goldman is a wonderful writer and this is an extremely important book.”—Salman Rushdie

“This is an impressive book. Goldman has focused his superb novelist’s talents—compassion, precision, muscularity, great thoroughness and an instinct for the exotique—on modern-day Guatemala’s ineradicable crime against itself. This remarkable book would seem not to remind us of ourselves, yet somehow it does.” —Richard Ford, author of The Lay of the Land

Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-17
The death of the author's wife hovers over this densely meandering, poignant look at the simmering violence in his beloved Mexico City.American novelist and journalist Goldman (Say Her Name, 2011, etc.) writes affectingly about his adopted city, where he had lived on and off since the 1990s. His short second marriage to essayist, graduate student and Mexico City native Aura Estrada ended with her tragic death from a bodysurfing accident while on vacation in 2007, a devastating loss Goldman wrote about eloquently in Say Her Name. Here, the author continues to move through stages of grief—e.g., by relearning how to drive, which he had been unable to do since Aura's death, as well as by relating with fellow residents' attempts to come to terms with the senseless drug cartel violence that has permeated all levels of Mexican society, especially in politics. Driving around the Distrito Federal, or DF, as the city is known, with its chaotic streets and aggressive drivers, presenting Mexico City zone by zone, Goldman attempted to engage with the city, seek out its secrets and deepen his relationship to it by creating his own "interior circuit." While he extols the vibrancy, endurance, youthful romance and tolerance of the city, he also confronts head-on its brutality and death wish. The legacy of President Felipe Calderón's war on the drug cartels, waged from 2006 to 2012, resulted in an explosion of violence against and by the narcos, spilling over into the DF—which had been relatively spared the carnage—in the form of the kidnapping of 11 young people from an after-hours club in May 2013. Goldman followed the case closely, which seemed to implicate both the new DF mayor and president.A gifted writer submerges his grief in his deep affection for his adopted city.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802122568
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/2/2014
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 103,327
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Francisco Goldman

Francisco Goldman is the author of the novels: Say Her Name; The Long Night of White Chickens, winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction; The Ordinary Seaman, a finalist for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and The Divine Husband. His last book of non-fiction, The Art of Political Murder, was awarded the Index on Censorship’s TR Fyvel Freedom of Expression Book Award.

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Read an Excerpt

“Vivimos adentro de una burbuja, we live inside a bubble,” I’m always hearing people in the DF say, a remarkable thing for those residing inside one the world’s largest and reputedly most dire metropolises to be saying. People sense the entire country collapsing, even vanishing, around them, becoming, as one friend put it, an “anti-country.” The plague of terror, chaos and murder is as close as just beyond the city’s borders, already having consumed large parts of Mexico State and its most populous municipalities. Though narco shoot-outs, executions and the like do occasionally occur, perhaps even with more frequency than the great majority of us realize, why has the DF so far been relatively immune? Is it only because the city isn’t on a major drug trafficking route, or because of the relative ubiquity of its police forces and surveillance cameras, or because it is a big enough drug consumption market on its own that it’s just good business to keep it relatively calm and prosperous? Those are commonly heard hypothesis, but are there more conspiratorial reasons? I sometimes imagine that the cartels have been sent the message that if they don’t want U.S. Navy Seals and drone-fired missiles hunting down their capos and blowing-up their mountain and desert ranch hideouts and sicario caravans – a nauseating solution, even if it were a solution, which it surely wouldn’t be — then they should stay out of the DF, the nation’s economic vital organ and political and media capitol, but I have no proof that there is any truth to that, it’s just one of those paranoid imaginings. What will happen now? Peña Nieto has surrounded himself with what some regard as an experienced and capable cabinet, a mix of PRI “dinosaurs” and “new” technocrats like those that have filled every Mexican presidential cabinet since the dawn of the technocrat vogue under Carlos Salinas. Will the PRI go back to dealing with the cartels as it is said to have before, making pacts that benefit both sides, going in as partners as it were, tamping things down for the time being at least? I don’t know. I sometimes fear, it being a given that the PRI will do whatever they can to undermine their PRD rivals before the next elections, with many now predicting that the party has a chance to produce the country’s next president, probably Ebrard, then why not send some cartel-style bedlam into the PRD bastion and explode that “bubble”? Send in beheadings, corpses hung from highway overpasses, massacres in nightclubs, restaurants and shopping centers, extortion rackets against small business owners, kidnap adolescent girls from bus stops to sell into prostitution-slavery rings in Mexico and abroad, or simply to rape and murder them, bring some of that heavy Medusan poison in directly from Peña Nieto’s Mexico State, where cartels operate with near total impunity, especially La Familia Michoacana and the Zetas. Of course that’s just more paranoia, right? Wouldn’t that be a self-defeating strategy for the PRI, given the resulting inevitable damage to the national economy and to many of Mexico’s wealthiest citizens and interests? The PRI would do better to at least create the appearance of bringing the country’s violence and corruption under control. But how will the PRI or anyone else subdue the Zetas, “Mexico’s most organized and dangerous group of assassins,” as they’ve been understatedly defined by the U.S. DEA, crime monopolists who seem to have lifted satanic self-interest and sadistic self-indulgence to a level hardly seen before in the world? Let go of one thing, you let go of the adjoining, and of the adjoining… There is a feeling that the lawlessness has spread too widely and too deeply now for anyone, even El Chapo Guzman, to reverse it.

***

“If you don’t have people using the city’s public spaces, if the public spaces can’t be enjoyed, then you don’t have a city,” Marcelo Ebrard told me when I spoke to him in the spring of 2013. “You have to create conditions so that people feel that they’re part of a community. If you don’t do that, the city doesn’t work.” The winter skating rink in the Zocalo with skates provided for free may not sound like such a big deal, but one only has to see the long lines of parents with children waiting their turn to grasp what it could mean for a child from the city slums to ice-skate for the first time, and for a parent to be able to provide that experience. Mexico’s paleontologists were invited to mount a dinosaur exhibit in the Zocalo, and a temporary wooden gallery was built to shelter the huge prehistoric skeletons and other displays. Six public swimming pool beaches were installed around the city with sand trucked in from Veracruz for poor children who may have never even seen the ocean. The exhibit of Rodins and Dalis in the Faro del Oriente in the poor colonia of Itztapalapa defied, said Ebrard, “the idea that beauty has become classist.” The exhibit broke city attendance records. More than three hundred new children’s playgrounds in the parks, and outdoor modular gyms. The free concerts that brought the likes of Paul McCartney, Justin Biebber, Brittney Spears and Shakira to the Zocalo. The musical and theater performances in poor neighborhoods. The city’s museums open late and free one night a week. The incredibly popular and inexpensive (in pesos less than twenty-five dollars a year) bike sharing program, sprouting up in one neighborhood after another, including the Centro, though not yet in neighborhoods like Itzapalapa; bike lanes all over the place; major avenues closed off for Sunday biking; late night group rides; the DF, its traffic hardly hospitable to bicyclers, has nevertheless gone mad for bicycling.

***

The Colonia Roma apartment that I rented at the start of the summer is on the sixth floor, overlooking the Plaza Rio de Janiero, its living-room window offering a big view of sky over the tree-filled plaza and buildings on the other side. I love to watch the summer afternoon rains from that perch at the front window, especially when they are torrential, heavy and dense or lashing, diffuse lightning flashes startling the purplish-grey chilly gloom, followed by shattering thunder, and then rattling hail, otherworldly like a storm on Mars; you hear sirens wailing all over the city. But often the rains are peaceful and luscious. The rains clean the air, bringing, when they wane, the fresh scent of trees, churned earth and wet stone. Concentration and hours to write come more easily to me in the DF than anywhere else, but especially when it rains. Time in Mexico City, at least to me, seems somehow slowed down, so that days feel twice as long there as they do in New York. A mysterious energy seems to silently thrum from the ground, from restless volcanic earth, but one that is also produced, I like to think, by the pavement-pounding footsteps of the millions upon millions who labor every day in the city, by their collective breathing and all that mental scheming, life here for most being a steadfastly confronted and often brutal daily challenge, mined with potential treachery but also, in the best cases, opportunity, one sometimes hiding inside the other like in a shell game; also by love, desire, and not so secret sexual secretiveness, the air seems to silently jangle with all that, it’s like you breathe it in and feel suddenly enamored or just horny; so much energy that in the late afternoons I don’t even need coffee. The writer Juan Villoro says that all chilangos carry a seismograph inside – I, like everyone else who lives here, have experienced earthquake tremors that have turned my knees to jelly — and maybe it is partly that too that helps me to focus here, senses alert, both inwardly and outwardly. That seismograph senses more than just literal earthquakes.

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