Friday, October 21, 2005

Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders

by Alicia Gaspar de Alba (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2005)

When I pick up a book from a small press I confess I often have doubts about how good it will be. All doubts were definitely allayed in this case.

Gaspar, who is an associate professor of Chicana/o Studies and English at UCLA, spent years doing research on and even holding a major conference about the large and horrifying number of vicious sex murders of women that continue to be perpetrated in and around Juarez, Mexico, the city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. The extensive acknowlegements section at the end gives some insights into that work.

But to go from research to a good work of fiction is not very easy. Most fiction "based on a true story" tends toward the wooden. I don't want to overpraise because discovering that you continue to like a book as it goes along is part of the suspense. But this holds up very well against all the genres it participates in: "true crime" as mentioned, the feminist mystery novel, the lesbian novel, and the bilingual chicana/o novel.

Things I like about this book include: The number of well-drawn and highly original characters; the tight and credible dialogue; the descriptions that carry their weight and don't go on for too long; the terse incorporation of information and ideas through the use of different characters' perspectives. I especially liked that Gaspar didn't try to perfect or apologize for any of her characters' behaviour or thinking or morals.

I found this book in a feminist bookstore (Bookwoman, in Austin, Texas ). I'm sure you can order it from them if you don't find it where you usually shop.

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