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This is a book about one of the deadliest places in the world El Salvador and Honduras have had the highest homicide rates in the world over the past ten years, with Guatemala close behind. Every day more than 1,000 people—men, women, and children—flee these three countries for North America. Óscar Martínez, author of The Beast, named one of the best books of the year by t This is a book about one of the deadliest places in the world El Salvador and Honduras have had the highest homicide rates in the world over the past ten years, with Guatemala close behind. Every day more than 1,000 people—men, women, and children—flee these three countries for North America. Óscar Martínez, author of The Beast, named one of the best books of the year by the Economist, Mother Jones, and the Financial Times, fleshes out these stark figures with true stories, producing a jarringly beautiful and immersive account of life in deadly locations. Martínez travels to Nicaraguan fishing towns, southern Mexican brothels where Central American women are trafficked, isolated Guatemalan jungle villages, and crime-ridden Salvadoran slums. With his precise and empathetic reporting, he explores the underbelly of these troubled places. He goes undercover to drink with narcos, accompanies police patrols, rides in trafficking boats and hides out with a gang informer. The result is an unforgettable portrait of a region of fear and a subtle analysis of the North American roots and reach of the crisis, helping to explain why this history of violence should matter to all of us.


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This is a book about one of the deadliest places in the world El Salvador and Honduras have had the highest homicide rates in the world over the past ten years, with Guatemala close behind. Every day more than 1,000 people—men, women, and children—flee these three countries for North America. Óscar Martínez, author of The Beast, named one of the best books of the year by t This is a book about one of the deadliest places in the world El Salvador and Honduras have had the highest homicide rates in the world over the past ten years, with Guatemala close behind. Every day more than 1,000 people—men, women, and children—flee these three countries for North America. Óscar Martínez, author of The Beast, named one of the best books of the year by the Economist, Mother Jones, and the Financial Times, fleshes out these stark figures with true stories, producing a jarringly beautiful and immersive account of life in deadly locations. Martínez travels to Nicaraguan fishing towns, southern Mexican brothels where Central American women are trafficked, isolated Guatemalan jungle villages, and crime-ridden Salvadoran slums. With his precise and empathetic reporting, he explores the underbelly of these troubled places. He goes undercover to drink with narcos, accompanies police patrols, rides in trafficking boats and hides out with a gang informer. The result is an unforgettable portrait of a region of fear and a subtle analysis of the North American roots and reach of the crisis, helping to explain why this history of violence should matter to all of us.

30 review for A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    When I first started practicing law, I was assisting a senior attorney in his defense of a gang member. I asked, with bold and ignorant naiveté, “what gang?” “MS 13” he replied simply, no doubt expecting that to be sufficient. “What’s that?” I asked, dripping green from my shiny new suit. The older lawyer (now a judge) looked at me with an ironic smile and said, “I’ll tell you what, when you get home, Google it.” I did and my wife immediately demanded that I get a new job. The defendant, a quiet man When I first started practicing law, I was assisting a senior attorney in his defense of a gang member. I asked, with bold and ignorant naiveté, “what gang?” “MS 13” he replied simply, no doubt expecting that to be sufficient. “What’s that?” I asked, dripping green from my shiny new suit. The older lawyer (now a judge) looked at me with an ironic smile and said, “I’ll tell you what, when you get home, Google it.” I did and my wife immediately demanded that I get a new job. The defendant, a quiet man with a disarming smile, had allegedly ordered a rival gang member killed and was facing federal time (the victim had been beaten to death about two miles away from a restaurant my wife and I had once visited). Author Oscar Martinez journalistically describes MS 13 and how it affects every level of El Salvadoran society. Martinez also illuminates the state of Copan, the passageway that connects Guatemala to Honduras, called the Corridor of Death. Here, a man without a gun is not considered a man. Criminal and terrorist organizations network with drug cartels and Guatemalan warlords like bankers and realtors at an after hours chamber of commerce cocktail hour. The lines between police, military, prison and gang are blurred from Texas to Ecuador. Women are bought and sold like chattel. South and Central America is a flat rock that Martinez lifts to uncover all the corruption that crawls beneath. Guns, drugs and violence – and this is NOT a Warren Zevon song. My wife and I had a great time last year in Costa Rica; I may reconsider going back down there. But on the other hand, Martinez presents clear evidence that these gangs go back and forth across our borders easier than the law abiding folks who must stand in line to be searched and have our shaving cream confiscated. A History of Violence is depressingly hypnotic. Martinez delivers his message in a machine gun staccato of dry facts that beats the reader over the head like a hit man on a contract. Erudite and scholarly, this is a good book, but not for the faint of heart.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeannette Nikolova

    Read on the WondrousBooks blog. This book is very informative and gives the reader a wide perspective of the lives people live in countries the existence of which gets forgotten on my side of the ocean. If you've ever wondered what life in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is like, this is the book for you, but beware - it's bloodier and more nightmarish than you can even imagine. In fact, this is a life which can arguably be called worse than the one in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Read on the WondrousBooks blog. This book is very informative and gives the reader a wide perspective of the lives people live in countries the existence of which gets forgotten on my side of the ocean. If you've ever wondered what life in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is like, this is the book for you, but beware - it's bloodier and more nightmarish than you can even imagine. In fact, this is a life which can arguably be called worse than the one in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The proof for this statement is the fact that in Central America we can find the cities with the highest murder rate and also the deadliest gang in the world - Mara Salvatrucha. Considering the careless and sheltered life some Europeans and Americans live, A History of Violence is an eye-opener for some facts we intentionally don't want to learn anything about and dismiss because they do not concern us. Therefore, I think that people should think about reading this book or another one on the same topic. Aside from this, though, the rest is a downfall. I can openly say that I admire Oscar Martinez's will to stay in that part of the world and document these events while many others would flee screaming. However, in all truth, Oscar Martinez is not a gifted writer. Very far from it, actually. At the very beginning he describes his audience and it's clear that this book is meant for American readers, which I think is downright stupid, because no author should ever limit in such a way the people he or she wants to reach and dismiss all others. Aside from that, it's obvious that A History of Violence was written in the course of a couple of years and it's painfully obvious that the author didn't read it. He continues to repeat himself, explains the same things over and over again, mentions the same people for the first time again and again. We are explained who Chepe Furia is and how many years in prison he got about 20 times, in 5 different chapters Los Zetas are introduced as an organization we don't know anything about, then as one we do know about, all of a sudden, as if we could forget them in a matter of 8 pages, Martinez explains who they are from the beginning. He does the same thing with his explanations about the sentences for human trafficking, repeating himself in a very unpleasant manner: "a robber would get, say, 10 years, but a human trafficker, a person who sells humans would get 4!!!" Two chapters later: "a pick-pocket would get 10 years, but someone who sells people, a human trafficker, would get 4!!!" The entire book is written in such a sloppy manner, with the author constantly repeating himself and also failing to choose whether he wants his book to be written in the form of a realistic account of events, or that of a Latin cop drama. He starts chapters as one would start a soap opera, then goes to normal storytelling, then moves back to overly sentimentalist sentences the purpose of which is to get the reader's sympathy as a cheap tear-jerker. No.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    This book is a collection of articles composed by Martinez over several years of reporting on organized crime and their tentacles in narcotrafficking, corruption, immigration, the prison system, and human trafficking in Central America. The book is loosely structured around the dealings of two allied gangs, MS and Los Zetas, and their dominance in the Central American culture, and everyday dealings. Martinez recounts the rise of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) in California prisons in the 1980s, and t This book is a collection of articles composed by Martinez over several years of reporting on organized crime and their tentacles in narcotrafficking, corruption, immigration, the prison system, and human trafficking in Central America. The book is loosely structured around the dealings of two allied gangs, MS and Los Zetas, and their dominance in the Central American culture, and everyday dealings. Martinez recounts the rise of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) in California prisons in the 1980s, and the subsequent deportation of the members back to their home countries (primarily El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). This deportation alongside the rise of narcotrafficking out of Colombia created a violent alchemy in this tenuous and key geographical bridge region. Martinez strives to tell the stories of the people impacted, both "civilians" and victims, law enforcement and prison guards, and gang members. In a recent interview*, Martinez states: “One of my obsessions is to explain the root of the violence,” he says, which is a sorry tale that goes back decades – and strongly implicates the US." The content is violent, yet important. Martinez asks Americans to read this book to better understand the history, as well as the context of immigration, gang violence, and narcotrafficking. The translation and structure of the book are a little clunky, and some more annotations from Martinez would have eased this. * Óscar Martinez: the journalist investigating the world’s most ferocious gang war , October 2016. -- Read for Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge: A book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tim Hoiland

    When people learn I was born and raised in Guatemala, I have come to expect one of two reactions. First, wide eyes and a “Wow, that must have been crazy.” Second, though far less frequently, maybe a story about visiting the colonial city of Antigua or of volunteering at an orphanage near Lake Lake Atitlán once. And that’s about it. Even though Central America is very close to us geographically, and though our histories are bound up together, for various reasons most people in the United States kn When people learn I was born and raised in Guatemala, I have come to expect one of two reactions. First, wide eyes and a “Wow, that must have been crazy.” Second, though far less frequently, maybe a story about visiting the colonial city of Antigua or of volunteering at an orphanage near Lake Lake Atitlán once. And that’s about it. Even though Central America is very close to us geographically, and though our histories are bound up together, for various reasons most people in the United States know very little about the three countries in the so-called “Northern Triangle” of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. I’ll be honest: it’s kind of understandable. To the extent that any of us follow international news, the headlines and stories coming out of Central America are for the most part bleak. There are places in the region people like us simply don’t go, and therefore, lots of stuff people like us simply don’t understand. And that’s where Óscar Martínez comes in... - See more at: http://timhoiland.com/2016/04/a-histo...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I've been a book bulldozer this past week. This is one of the books that I devoured in a couple days. At first I thought no way am I going to read this all at once, it was way too information dense. There were places and names that I was unfamiliar with, too many drug cartels to keep straight. But I soon found a rhythm, and often people who appeared in early reporting, showed up again in another article, and I got caught in the flow.This book concentrates mostly on El Salvador and Guatemala, wit I've been a book bulldozer this past week. This is one of the books that I devoured in a couple days. At first I thought no way am I going to read this all at once, it was way too information dense. There were places and names that I was unfamiliar with, too many drug cartels to keep straight. But I soon found a rhythm, and often people who appeared in early reporting, showed up again in another article, and I got caught in the flow.This book concentrates mostly on El Salvador and Guatemala, with a few things to say about Honduras, but the concentration of gangs seems to be in the former countries. El Salvador is overrun with MS- 13 and Barrio 18, while Guatemala, which used to be run by family mafia groups from Colombia, has become inundated with the Mexican group Los Zetas, and please, no one tell Trump about Los Zetas, because they're some real motherfuckers.The whole book was horrifying. If I lived in these countries, I too would be willing to pay a coyote $7,000 to get to America. I mean, Jesus. In one case Barrio 18 told a whole building of tenants that they had 48 hours to vacate their homes or die, because the gang wanted the apartments for themselves, and what do you do? The police say: don't go, we'll stop them, and the people say: how long are you going to stay? Will you have an officer outside every door indefinitely? No is the answer, so the people leave, and become homeless. Now back to the coyotes, here are a few rules: no good coyote works for less than $7,000. No good coyote comes with you on the trip. No good coyotes puts you on La Bestia, or The Beast (train that runs through Mexico to the border with the United States). No good coyote doesn't pay Los Zetas at the border, because if the coyote doesn't pay Los Zetas, you will be stopped and you will be slaughtered. If you hear about mass killings by drug cartels in Mexico, it was probably Los Zetas.If you're a woman, you're probably fucked. It's terrible to say, but it doesn't seem like there's any good outcome for you. Most women are raped before they reach the border. Many women are trafficked, and just so you know, if you're over 20 years old, you're too old to traffic. It's fucking awful. I read Valerie Luiselli's book Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions about unaccompanied minors making the journey to the US, and after reading this book I'm even more horrified.This was a slap in the face. I recommend it if you want to know more, or if you want to shout in the face of someone who says something like "build the wall", because fuck that shit.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Amazingly timely reminder of the continuing damage of US intervention in Central America. An essential read to understand contemporary drivers to Central American mass migration.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    Hard to read but important to understand. Before you emit an opinion about Central America, immigration, or any other sociopolitical facet related to the region, it is important to understand the dynamics of many who suffer. Martinez paints the bloody reality that many people face right outside their door, inflicted by parasites that are sucking the life out of their own countrymen.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

    This is a review of the English translation of Martinez's book. If I had known this was a translation I never would have purchased it. Whoever did the translation here did not do their job. It's a shame, because an otherwise well-researched and valuable book has been rendered unintelligible--so much so that while reading, without knowing this was a translation, I felt my suspicions aroused and leafed to the front of the book to see, and--sure enough!--it was a translation. If a translation is do This is a review of the English translation of Martinez's book. If I had known this was a translation I never would have purchased it. Whoever did the translation here did not do their job. It's a shame, because an otherwise well-researched and valuable book has been rendered unintelligible--so much so that while reading, without knowing this was a translation, I felt my suspicions aroused and leafed to the front of the book to see, and--sure enough!--it was a translation. If a translation is doing it's job right, in my opinion, the reader shouldn't be able to tell, just by reading, that it's a translation. Here's an example of one of the passages that made me finally quit: "...people told me it was a shocking place. A place you may never get out of alive if you dare show up unannounced. But really, there's just little to see. City Hall, though, is a palace, a monumental palace. It stands tall...I'd been told I couldn't simply swing in like a disoriented tourist. That, with some luck, I'd be merely expelled from El Paraiso." Here's what I did with this in literally two minutes... "people had told me it was a frightful place, the sort of place you might never leave alive if you enter unprepared. But, as it turns out, the stories are exaggerated. It's not much to speak of, with the exception of City Hall, which is like a monumental palace...I'd been told I couldn't just swing in like a tourist, blind and unprepared. If I did, I'd be expelled from El Paraiso..and that was if I was lucky." Now, not having access to the original Spanish, I don't know if my translation is 100% accurate to what the author was trying to say, but I think I've made my point. The use of prepositions like "but" "however" etc. in situations where they don't fit at all is rampant in this translation. Imagine the sentence "he was the most feared gangster in the city. However, he was a brutal killer." It makes you stop--it breaks the flow of the reading. Clearly something else, like "in addition" or "on top of that" would work better than "however." The translators don't seem to make these kinds of subtle distinctions and the result is a highly confusing read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Vishal Misra

    "A pickpocket who steals a cell phone can be sentenced to between six and ten years. A man who sells another man to Los Zetas, only four." This sobering sentence from the penultimate paragraph of Martinez's book is a great summation of this work. At its depressing nadir, it is a tract of despair, however, within that despair, Martinez gives voice to some of the most voiceless vulnerable people in the world. "A History of Violence" is a deeply readable collection of essays by the journalist Oscar "A pickpocket who steals a cell phone can be sentenced to between six and ten years. A man who sells another man to Los Zetas, only four." This sobering sentence from the penultimate paragraph of Martinez's book is a great summation of this work. At its depressing nadir, it is a tract of despair, however, within that despair, Martinez gives voice to some of the most voiceless vulnerable people in the world. "A History of Violence" is a deeply readable collection of essays by the journalist Oscar Martinez, which documents how Guatemala and El Salvador have become the most murderous places on earth, with a homicide rate that has increased after civil war tore through the regions. It is a book aimed at Western (particularly US) audiences, with the injunction upon those societies to attempt to understand what it happening. Why are so many Guatemalans and Central Americans so desperate to flee to the US? Well, it is partially because of US policy. Gangs like Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha were born in California, where "with the logic of an ape", they were merely flushed south to feed and proliferate throughout Central America. This is an area that has become a way station for drugs from Colombia on their way north to the US, and it has been ravaged in the aftermath of CIA meddling in its democratic affairs. Trapped between these rocks and hard places, the area has exploded in to homicidal violence. Martinez tells us the story of the hitman who "took people for walks" and dumped their bodies in wells. This man turned coat, helped ensure that other killers and rapists were convicted, and then was abandoned by the State. He was assassinated in revenge on the day he registered himself as the father of his second daughter. Martinez doesn't romanticise, El Nino was a gangster, a killer par excellence. However, his words show why so many end up in the position of having to take people for walks. We are shown the internal power struggles of prisons, where "civilian" non-gang members have become gangs in reaction to the overflow of gangsters in the prisons, where people must sleep standing upright - they are that crowded. Then we hear of the migrant trail and the narcos of Mexico who massacre migrants who won't pay for safe passage, through to the ill-researched and poorly understood phenomenon of sex-trafficking by these narcos. The stories told here are harrowing, gritty and detailed. They are filled with pathos, but also with a humanity and understanding of the human spirit in situations that horrible beyond comprehension. Read it, it's worth understanding this little corner of the earth where people are dying everyday caught between the anvil of the narcos and the hammer of the United States.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    This is required reading for anyone that has formed an opinion of the group of migrants that recently traveled to the US border that Trump has made such a fuss over. This is especially so if you've idiotically referred or thought of them, generally, as "invaders." If you don't want to dedicate much time to informing yourself, read chapters 13 and 14. Ask if the people in these stories are "invading" the US and ask what you would do in the same scenario. My only complaint is the repetitiveness This is required reading for anyone that has formed an opinion of the group of migrants that recently traveled to the US border that Trump has made such a fuss over. This is especially so if you've idiotically referred or thought of them, generally, as "invaders." If you don't want to dedicate much time to informing yourself, read chapters 13 and 14. Ask if the people in these stories are "invading" the US and ask what you would do in the same scenario. My only complaint is the repetitiveness of some portions of the book as a whole. I somewhat understand it since it is a collection of articles Martinez published at different times that have been put together for this collection, but to make it a smoother read it would have been nice if someone had edited them a bit to take out some of the cumulative sections. Certain paragraphs I feel like I read 6 or 7 times. I learned quite a bit about the region, the people, and the criminality that pervades just about every minute of the day in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Martinez notes early on people ask him sometimes what is the solution to these problems. He doesn't offer any and posits the point of his book is to inform, which I agree, has great value...but for someone with such inside knowledge, it would have been nice to hear some concluding thoughts on how he felt things could get better. Instead, we are bombarded with opinions from uninformed people on the issue (including the US President), while an expert like Martinez (at least in this book) holds back.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mikaela

    A brave and informative look into the underreported stories of Central America. I have an immense respect for the author, Óscar Martínez, who has put himself in great danger on multiple occasions to get these stories straight from the source, whether they be victims of trafficking, gang members, or city officials. The writing itself is incisive and clear, evoking emotion without sacrificing its journalistic neutrality. That being said, the book is essentially a collection of longform journalism A brave and informative look into the underreported stories of Central America. I have an immense respect for the author, Óscar Martínez, who has put himself in great danger on multiple occasions to get these stories straight from the source, whether they be victims of trafficking, gang members, or city officials. The writing itself is incisive and clear, evoking emotion without sacrificing its journalistic neutrality. That being said, the book is essentially a collection of longform journalism pieces which are not obviously cohesive. In fact, the structure of the book does not make much sense, with the exception of the final (and strongest) section, "Fleeing". In addition, because these articles were clearly written for varying purposes outside of coming together for this book, there was quite a bit of repetition between chapters, explaining on multiple occasions who people were, what purpose a place served as, the history of certain gangs, etc. But all in all, I came into the book not knowing much about Central America, and left with a breadth (albeit surface) knowledge of the problems that the area faces. It serves as a great introduction to those interested in drug trafficking and gang violence, as well as fostering understanding of why immigrants flee from these countries to "illegally" live in the United States. Notable chapters: -A Nobody in the Land of Narcos -Our Bottomless Well -The Men Who Pull Out Nails -The Tamed Coyotes -Men Who Sell Women

  12. 5 out of 5

    Raelee Carpenter

    Americans need to read this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    A hit and miss collection of articles about the gangs, migrants, prisons, and police in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It's a mixed bag of feelings as well. Desperately poor people who turn to MS or Barrio-18, human smuggling, drug trafficking, what have you. Some clearly do it for economic advancement, but those who rise to the top appear to largely be violent sociopaths. Our Bottomless Well is the best chapter, detailing the futility and Kafkaesque attempts over several years to dig to th A hit and miss collection of articles about the gangs, migrants, prisons, and police in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It's a mixed bag of feelings as well. Desperately poor people who turn to MS or Barrio-18, human smuggling, drug trafficking, what have you. Some clearly do it for economic advancement, but those who rise to the top appear to largely be violent sociopaths. Our Bottomless Well is the best chapter, detailing the futility and Kafkaesque attempts over several years to dig to the bottom of a well where who knows how many bodies have been deposited. The most pointless are those about random gangsters who eventually get what they know they have coming, either from a rival gang over territory, or from their own for turning state's witness. The latter, the book shows, has little benefit (almost no protection and sometimes almost no food). So far as the analysis of the human condition goes, I can follow the logic of killing for money or power, but the tale of gang-raping an 8-year old. WTF? Humanity has long since left those men, and if they get tortured and killed, well, can't say I feel bad for them. Apparently it's about $7K to get from El Salvador to the US, and multiple coyotes act as logistics coordinators along the way. You may get sold, like as in selling a human, for a grand or less so that you can either be raped, held for ransom, or used as a mule, but 10s of thousands make the trip anyway. It's a mixed bag for the American responsibility in all this. Yes, fighting proxy wars in the 80s did not help these people, and yes, the demand for cocaine amidst the Wall St and Hollywood class drives the drug business in Central America, as the heroin-based products come from Mexico or China, and pot is legal in so many states here now. However, the U.S. did not roll out the red carpet for Los Zetas, as so many Central American politicians did; the U.S. did force so many cops to work for the cartels; the U.S. did not tell all the pretty girls to not date a guy unless he has a new truck (all but impossible via legal means in much of this triangle of countries.) What's the solution? How do you stop migrants coming across the border and thus harming the socioeconomic prospects of native born Americans without a silver spoon? How do you stop the demand for cocaine here? How do you revive trust in the state and create a vibrant economy in Central America so that fewer people will want to leave, and so that fewer people will be kidnapped, raped, enslaved, and murdered? As the last 35 years have shown, solutions are few and far between.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joe Ruvido

    I am lucky to have the things I have, due to nothing more than the fluke of my being born a bit farther north than where this book takes place. I honestly cannot believe some of the things I read in this book. This was not the first time I have heard or read the stories of why people are fleeing to the US from Central America. However the way in which author writes about all of the players in this awful game makes you feel at first like you're reading one of those nifty crime novels but in fact y I am lucky to have the things I have, due to nothing more than the fluke of my being born a bit farther north than where this book takes place. I honestly cannot believe some of the things I read in this book. This was not the first time I have heard or read the stories of why people are fleeing to the US from Central America. However the way in which author writes about all of the players in this awful game makes you feel at first like you're reading one of those nifty crime novels but in fact you quickly realize the weight and oppression of las maras, who have rendered to the people the false choice of joining them or living in abject poverty...or worse. It left me deeply unsettled. It is one thing to say "the drug cartels are corrupt, and they corrupt." It is another thing entirely to read about how they manipulate the police, representatives, businessmen, mayors, prosecutors, judges, and heads of state. Narcos is fun to watch, but A History of Violence is a gut punch of the reality of living under the cartels. The ultimate 3 chapters left me shaking my head in disbelief and anger. Reading about what the poor in Central America and México are up against in terms of economic opportunity, basic fairness and human rights (never mind living conditions and social services) don't leave you wondering why someone would take their children on the back of a cargo train through Veracruz then to the US border by bus to come here and clean your office. And as standard practice, it's best to have your family wire you a couple hundred USD to bribe Los Zetas along the way. Unreal.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ro

    A very grisly and immersive set of essays on gangs and violence in Central America. The essays are all mostly independent, seemingly picked from previously published works by the author, and loosely organized around certain themes (absence of the state; the irrationality of actions; impact on average people). It can be a bit difficult to follow some of the essays, as there isn't much context given about anything, in terms of local history or politics, and instead are jammed full of the details o A very grisly and immersive set of essays on gangs and violence in Central America. The essays are all mostly independent, seemingly picked from previously published works by the author, and loosely organized around certain themes (absence of the state; the irrationality of actions; impact on average people). It can be a bit difficult to follow some of the essays, as there isn't much context given about anything, in terms of local history or politics, and instead are jammed full of the details of this or that criminal case. Other essays are much better in that they touch upon multiple aspects of Central American society -- police, neighborhoods, elites, economic life -- and give a better overall picture of the situation and the context.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Julia Hazel

    This book is a compilation of articles previously published in an online journal. Martínez's detail and thorough, risky journalism sheds light on just how deep corruption runs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. I would like to read more about the lives of everyday people in these countries. This book focuses on the police, the gangs, and the drug networks. It is a complex subject and Martínez draws lines between incidents going on now and U.S. policy decades ago. He grounds each article in This book is a compilation of articles previously published in an online journal. Martínez's detail and thorough, risky journalism sheds light on just how deep corruption runs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. I would like to read more about the lives of everyday people in these countries. This book focuses on the police, the gangs, and the drug networks. It is a complex subject and Martínez draws lines between incidents going on now and U.S. policy decades ago. He grounds each article in the precise geography of that particular city/ town/ region and its unique political role/predicament.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Although this book was non-fiction and the title reveals the details of what it is about, I was quite surprised at the depth of gang violence and lack of law enforcement control. Story after story of non-stop killings and retaliation of gang violence. Towards the end of the book, there were some stories that were not as grewsome, yet still had hints of horrific violence. It is no wonder that the people of Central America are desperate to get out. And while the gang violence is very prevalent and Although this book was non-fiction and the title reveals the details of what it is about, I was quite surprised at the depth of gang violence and lack of law enforcement control. Story after story of non-stop killings and retaliation of gang violence. Towards the end of the book, there were some stories that were not as grewsome, yet still had hints of horrific violence. It is no wonder that the people of Central America are desperate to get out. And while the gang violence is very prevalent and wide-spread in CA, there are other types of criminal activity that occurs in the U.S. many of it not even publicized.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Wilson

    14 chapters about 14 nonfiction people in Central America. Oscar Martinez writes engagingly about those people as they live, die and get by in an area over run by drugs, gangs, organized criminals, official corruption and poverty. Many of the people there want to come up to the United States to escape their circumstances, but as pointed out in the book, the gangs were formed in the United States and somehow foisted onto the people of that region. As you can guess, I am not sympathetic to people 14 chapters about 14 nonfiction people in Central America. Oscar Martinez writes engagingly about those people as they live, die and get by in an area over run by drugs, gangs, organized criminals, official corruption and poverty. Many of the people there want to come up to the United States to escape their circumstances, but as pointed out in the book, the gangs were formed in the United States and somehow foisted onto the people of that region. As you can guess, I am not sympathetic to people who break the Law to come here, and this book is infused with that indifferent spirit to our rules and laws, however I found this to be an engaging read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ilana

    An excruciating read. Martínez spares no detail in terms of the horrors perpetrated on the bodies and souls of migrants and their loved ones. His writing, as reviewers have said, is reminiscent of war reporting, evoking deep exhaustion that approaches but stays short of cynicism, retaining a sense of urgency but also the fear and grief that so many efforts to stay the endemic violence and corruption have thus far borne less fruit than so many have hoped. Martínez's writing may be among the most An excruciating read. Martínez spares no detail in terms of the horrors perpetrated on the bodies and souls of migrants and their loved ones. His writing, as reviewers have said, is reminiscent of war reporting, evoking deep exhaustion that approaches but stays short of cynicism, retaining a sense of urgency but also the fear and grief that so many efforts to stay the endemic violence and corruption have thus far borne less fruit than so many have hoped. Martínez's writing may be among the most important work to lay bare the degree and depth of this system, with the hope that sunlight may present a disinfectant.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Austin

    This is a stark and vivid depiction of the tragic situation in Mexico and Central America. The horrific massacres and slavery that Óscar Martínez so adroitly illustrates are important indictors of why US President Trumps wall is crucial to the citizens of these countries. The USA cannot fix these problems for them and by continuing to prop up their economies through the remittance system and supporting the corrupt administrations we are enabling this tragedy. What we are currently doing is not w This is a stark and vivid depiction of the tragic situation in Mexico and Central America. The horrific massacres and slavery that Óscar Martínez so adroitly illustrates are important indictors of why US President Trumps wall is crucial to the citizens of these countries. The USA cannot fix these problems for them and by continuing to prop up their economies through the remittance system and supporting the corrupt administrations we are enabling this tragedy. What we are currently doing is not working.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Journalistic vignettes of El Salvador and Guatemala, arranged to illustrate how U.S.-originated gangs fluidly control and take as given these middle Central American countries, creating entire societies of crazy violence. Lots of gruesome violence. The introduction forcefully ties these together to explain how US deportation and drug policy are why these countries cannot stabilize and will continue to pump drugs and fleeing migrants our way.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cara Ladd

    Real stories from The Beast This book is a must read for anyone who doesnt comprehend the dangers of attempting to migrate to the U.S. from Central America. Martinez tells the stories of why people leave their homes for the hope of a better life, and how those who can't leave remain trapped in the cycle. There is no happy ending here; just an in depth look into their stories we don't hear about and the insane trafficking that exists in our world. Real stories from The Beast This book is a must read for anyone who doesnt comprehend the dangers of attempting to migrate to the U.S. from Central America. Martinez tells the stories of why people leave their homes for the hope of a better life, and how those who can't leave remain trapped in the cycle. There is no happy ending here; just an in depth look into their stories we don't hear about and the insane trafficking that exists in our world.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Horrifying portrait of a truly unjust society and a reality more brutal than any piece of fiction could portray. Very well researched and written, I wish that more Americans would read this so as to understand the impact their country’s drug consumption has on this bloody region as well as the desperate reality of migrants trying to seek out a better life in the ‘land of opportunity’.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I desperately want to listen to what this book is trying to talk about, so it is the definition of frustrating that I couldn't make it through the prose. It trips me up. I can't keep track of who's who. It feels like a story told out of the corner of a mouth. Maybe that fits. But I am hungry for something clearer. Maybe you have to slow the story down? Focus on one scene? I don't know. I want to know. I desperately want to listen to what this book is trying to talk about, so it is the definition of frustrating that I couldn't make it through the prose. It trips me up. I can't keep track of who's who. It feels like a story told out of the corner of a mouth. Maybe that fits. But I am hungry for something clearer. Maybe you have to slow the story down? Focus on one scene? I don't know. I want to know.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trina

    Reporter Oscar Martinez shares fourteen horrifying, but true investigative pieces describing what many people face in Central America. This book reveals why people flee (not migrate) to countries in North American. Martinez tackles issues such as gang violence, human trafficking, corruption, drugs, and deplorable living conditions.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Noreen Zayna Barlas

    This is a must read for those seeking to understand the realities of living in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. It sheds light on the gripping and realities around the horrific violence and instability in those countries. A very important book in the timely discourse around human security and migration.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Waugh

    A lucid and comprehensive overview of the Latin American Gang crises. Describes in detail the extent of political corruption and the culpibility of flawed American foreign policy decisions in the current problem.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I found the book excellently researched but delivered in a manner that I could not stay interested. It is unfortunate because so much of this book is important to know and understand for anyone trying to learn how some of the history of the drug trade through central America.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Aguiar

    Martínez’s writing is epic and almost cinematic, but he never once betrays empathy for victims in pursuit of excitement. Must-read for those interested in Latin American gang-culture that isn’t written from the viewpoint of a white American dude

  30. 5 out of 5

    Noelle

    Probably 3 1/2 stars. It's painful to read through and a worthwhile rejoinder to the decision to deport those who've been convicted of crimes. Probably 3 1/2 stars. It's painful to read through and a worthwhile rejoinder to the decision to deport those who've been convicted of crimes.

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