Book Review: A Narco History

Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace, 230 pgs, OR Books,, $17 

As I write this review, my husband is sitting beside me on the couch raptly watching a new Netflix original series called Narcos. It’s the story of the infamous Columbian drug baron Pablo Escobar and the DEA agent tracking him. It’s shot in sleek shadows and amber streetlights, glittering and full of menace. Compelling, well-acted and slickly paced, Narcos is guilty of glamorizing a truly destructive practice (a time-honoured practice in pretty much all American media, from Entourage to rap music). It’s also out of touch: these days, most people think of Mexico as the “new Columbia.” The once-peaceful country is now fraught with corruption, muzzled media sources, disappearances, ghastly murders (including waves of beheadings) and entire families caught in the crossfire, This is a place caught helplessly in the vice grip of drug culture and the fear it engenders.

A Narco History, co-authored by novelist Carmen Boullosa and Nobel Prize-winning professor Mike Wallace, continues in this tradition by presenting a meticulously-researched, fascinating and deeply troubling history of the Mexican drug trade, and how the country has been all but immobilized by corruption and ghastly violence. Opening with a harrowing rundown of the circumstances surrounding the 43 students murdered in Guerro last September, Bollosa and Wallace trace the roots of the drug war back to the seven-year rule of the tyrannical Instituional Revolutionary Party, and assign the greatest blame to former Mexican president Felipe Calderon, whose six years in office marked the bloodiest in the country’s history, with over 100,000 people killed. They also cite the United States’ deep-seated responsbility, including the ongoing flow of arms between the two countries even as the U.S. government hypocritically extols the importance of the “war on drugs.” This is a expertly well-written primer on how the drug trade can fracture an already poor country and it’s a stoic-as-death reminder of our own culpability. (Alison Lang)