Polit's work is an important contribution to our understanding of narcotrafficking in the Americas. It is well argued and elegantly put together, an excellent piece of pedagogical material for teaching about the cultural economies of illegality in Latin America, and it will be useful to a wide range of scholars, from historians to literary critics and from sociologists to anthropologists. Her comparative method deserves special praise, since it invites readers to think outside the box of confining national discourses.
Narrating Narcos presents a probing examination of the prominent role of narcotics trafficking in contemporary Latin American cultural production. In her study, Gabriela Polit Dueu00f1as juxtaposes two infamous narco regions, Culiacán, Mexico, and Medellín, Colombia, to demonstrate the powerful forces of violence, corruption, and avarice and their influence over locally based cultural texts.
Polit Dueu00f1as provides a theoretical basis for her methods, citing the work of Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, and other cultural analysts. She supplements this with extensive ethnographic fieldwork, interviewing artists and writers, their confidants, relatives, and others, and documents their responses to the portrayal of narco culture. Polit Dueu00f1as offers close readings of the characters, language, and milieu of popular works of literature and the visual arts and relates their ethical and thematic undercurrents to real life experiences. In both regions, there are few individuals who have not been personally affected by the narcotics trade. Each region has witnessed corrupt state, police, and paramilitary actors in league with drug capos. Both have a legacy of murder.
Polit Dueu00f1as documents how narco culture developed at different times historically in the two regions. In Mexico, drugs have been cultivated and trafficked for over a century, while in Colombia the cocaine trade is a relatively recent development. In Culiacán, characters in narco narratives are often modeled after the serrano (highlander), a romanticized historic figure and sometime thief who nobly defied a corrupt state and its laws. In Medellín, the oft-portrayed sicario (assassin) is a recent creation, an individual recruited by drug lords from poverty stricken shantytowns who would have little economic opportunity otherwise. As Polit Dueu00f1as shows, each character occupies a different place in the psyche of the local populace.
Narrating Narcos offers a unique melding of archival and ground-level research combined with textual analysis. Here, the relationship of writer, subject, and audience becomes clearly evident, and our understanding of the cultural bonds of Latin American drug trafficking is greatly enhanced. As such, this book will be an important resource for students and scholars of Latin American literature, history, culture, and contemporary issues.
Narrating Narcos is devoted to exploring writers and artists as social actors and people trying to make representational and ethical sense out od the onslaught of pain and bloodshed that accompanies trafficking and state violence.
"Narrating Narcos succeeds admirably in explaining the origins of the 'narco novels,' as well as in offering trenchant close readings of works by Elmer Mendoza, Fernando Vallejo, and Hector Abad Faciolince, and placing these fictions in a broader cultural and artistic context that includes painting, music, and film. It's a must-read book about an urgently important phenomenon."
As Polit Duenas posits, the phenomenon of narco trafficking expresses an overwhelming challenge of representation. In this sense the author has successfully met the challenge head on. The text brings a fresh interdisciplinary mix of archival work and ethnographic involvement that fruitfully explores the conundrums of Latin American narco culture. As such it is a genuine contribution for understanding the troubled historical narco legacies of our time.
Gabriela Polit Dueñas is associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Cosas de hombres: Escritores y caudillos en la literatura latinoamericana del siglo XX and the coeditor of Meanings of Violence in Contemporary Latin America.