February 9, 2006
by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family (Paperback)
We read this book more than two years ago and it still haunts us. In fact, its vivid depiction of a failed American drug policy -- grounded in the story of the murder of one young man in El Paso -- kept returning to us, perhaps to force us to make amends and offer the riveting book as a premium.
We had never heard of Charles Bowden before reading "Down by the River." But he's a gritty writer who resides in Tucson. He's as cynical and fearless as all heck. And he writes with such detail and compassion that you think that you are breathing in the story with him.
In reading "Down by the River" you feel like you are attending a funeral, sharing the grief of a Mexican-American family as if your own heart were being torn apart, and grieving for a failed American drug policy that appears to be costing billions of dollars just to put on a show for American voters.
Bowden is a masterful writer who moves agilely back and forth between the drama of one family's loss and the larger issue of a drug underworld so ingrained on both sides of the Mexican-American border that the U.S. government has largely given up any real expectation of stopping it.
But this is not a political tract, it is a gripping, eloquent narrative that moves from a single murder to an entirely corrupt "war on drugs."
"Down by the River" covers so much territory in terms of Mexican-American drug trafficking that we will only mention one key point. In reality, the U.S. government won't really try to stop the drug trade from Mexico because it is so lucrative, the Mexican economy might collapse if the narcotics infrastructure was to be dismantled. That's the gloomy reality that faces any administration, Democratic or Republican.
Bowden pursues the story of the murder of Lionel Bruno Jordan with courage and tenacity, as it opens up into the much larger story of betrayal at the highest levels. You are left wondering how Bowden had the nerve to pursue the story as relentlessly as he did and take intrepid personal risks.
And the book, as we have said, won't leave you for a long, long time. It manages to be respectful, compassionate and cynical.
For two years, "Down by the River" has returned to us as a faint whisper of reality-based writing that reminds us of the truth behind the fabricated slogans of our government in terms of "the war on drugs."
We are making amends today by offering it as a premium. It deserves a wide readership.
Afternote: If you want to learn a little more about Bowden, here's a commentary he wrote just before the 2004 election, which just endeared us to him more.
Bowden is much too skeptical and cynical to be a Buzzer, but he certainly has caught onto the deceit of George W. Bush.