Midnight in Mexico by Alfredo Corchado; book review

 

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The Independent Culture

Mexico’s nightmarish descent into a land of drug cartels, corruption, and jaw-dropping violence has inspired a plethora of courageous books in the past decade. What makes Midnight in Mexico stand apart is that at the heart of this story is the author’s love affair with his country of birth – a love that  defines his life, but almost cost him it as well.

Alfredo Corchado is a respected Mexican-American journalist who returns home to Mexico in the 1990s as a foreign correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, to a country on the brink of democracy and brimming with hope. But as the bodies pile up and the Mexican dream turns into a horror story, Corchado’s relentless reporting irks both the cartels and government alike.

In 2007, Corchado is tipped off that he’s gone too far: there’s a bullet with his name on it and he has 24 hours to leave Mexico. His long-term partner, an intrepid journalist not easily spooked, pleads with him to accept Mexico’s demise into lawlessness and come home to Texas where his family lives: “You’ve stopped being a reporter,” she reasons. “You’re part of the story now.”

But he can’t, because for him it is personal. Every horror, every broken promise hurts him like it hurts Mexico. To leave would mean giving up on Mexico and admitting that everything he’d believed possible was a lie. So, against everyone’s advice, he stays to find out who’s pointing a gun at his head. 

The story is as much about identity as about violence and power, as Corchado grapples with being too Mexican in America and too American in Mexico, an outsider in both worlds. His life began in a poor, rural Mexican village, where the men, like his father, eked out a living in California’s fields as seasonal farmhands. His world was shattered by the death of his baby sister which prompted his mother to give up on Mexico and move her brood permanently across the border – a gut-wrenching experience for the young Corchado which never leaves him.  

The raw emotion at times takes your breath away, an admirable feat for a veteran reporter accustomed to keeping his feelings out of his stories. However, the book’s personal narrative comes at the expense of in-depth analysis of the power struggles and drug wars which will undoubtedly disappoint some Mexico buffs. Nevertheless, this is a vivid, captivating memoir shaped by the hope and despair of modern Mexico, a land which promised so much, but so far has delivered too little.

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