Hear the word MEXICO and some sensation reaches your brain. You might get an image of a mariachi band member wearing a sombrero and a smile, the twanging from the guitar slung across the front of his elaborately decorated costume, perhaps? Maybe the taste of tacos or freshly made guacamole and tortilla chips pricks your tastebuds, the smell of the lemon juice a persistent garnish. The rough feel of prickly pears or a desert cactus that your friend brought you back as a souvenir? Whatever sense the name MEXICO invokes for you, we all have some mental association with the place, even if we’ve never visited the country ourselves.
In this case, MEXICO is the title of Josh Barkan’s short story collection, each story as colorful as the cover.
Barkan’s characters have the kind of experiences most of us don’t even conjure up in our fantasies. In the first story, The Chef and El Chapo, an American has opened a restaurant in Mexico City and is visited by the notorious drug kingpin and has to make the meal of his life or risk losing his own.
In the following story, a young Jewish teacher is caught in the crossfire of a modern day Romeo and Juliet story where his students, children of rival mob leaders, have fallen in love, much to the displeasure of their parents, and the teacher is charged with either keeping the teens apart or having his own body hacked apart in revenge.
The stories are engaging and thrilling, ordinary characters trying to live ordinary lives, their days interrupted and made interesting by encounters crime. And even when their responses are a little unbelievable, who’s to say what you would do if you ever found yourself in a similar situation. The violence hits you in the face in this book. It is impossible to talk about this book without mentioning how vivid the descriptions of unspeakable crime in each story. But the major theme is not crime, it is triumph over it, at least for some of the characters. The blackout spots on the cover? Yeah, those are probably from gun shots.
I gave this short story collection a 4 star rating:
- Bold, interesting plot lines
- Stories progress with good pace
- Relatable characters in unexpected situations
- I would like to read more from the author and would buy this book myself for my library or as a gift
I took a star off because the crime theme made me wish the stories had a different title. I don’t like stereotyping an entire country or its people because of one negative characteristic. I am afraid readers will focus entirely on the violence that probably is correctly portrayed even if this is a work of fiction, and forget about all the other, beautiful experiences the country has to offer.
More information about MEXICO: Stories
- Author: Josh Barkan
- Format: Hardcover (I read an electronic Advance Reader Copy)
- Pages: 256
- Publisher: Hogarth
Recently, Hogarth has undertaken a project to publish works based on Shakespeare plays and in the past few months, I’ve read a few of them – Shylock Is My Name, an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, and Vinegar Girl, a retelling of The Taming of The Shrew. Keeping this in mind, MEXICO short story collection, incorporates many of the themes and even some of the situations that The Bard discussed in his writings so the reader should keep this in mind, figuring out which Shakespeare work is inspiring each story.
I received an electronic copy of MEXICO from Blogging For Books in order to complete this review.