Friday, January 24, 2014

This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez, by Robert Andrew Powell

This Love Is Not For Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad JuárezThis Love Is Not For Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez by Robert Andrew Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A successful author has a bit of a turn of fortune and decides to settle in Ciudad Juárez, on the Mexican border with El Paso, Texas, to follow a newly elevated first-division Mexican soccer team for the season. The cost of living is cheap, the food is outstanding, and the people are terrific-- if they haven't been killed. Juárez during the time of Powell's residence has the highest per-capita murder rate of any city in the world, and it's due to the rampant drug cartels battling it out for the border territory. Juárez is a city full of factories with American contracts, thanks to NAFTA; yet a lot of people seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. Mexican president Calderón's policies give only lip service to fighting the war on drugs, and not very far behind the scenes support the infrastructure of the growing border drug trafficking scene in Juárez.

But the soccer team, Juárez's beloved Indios, is in a bubble, in a not-so-bad stadium with a dedicated staff and a travel schedule that gets them away from the city regularly to play the rest of the top teams in Mexico. Powell went to write the story of an unlikely success, only to be on hand when things went downhill. The narrative becomes a metaphor for Juárez itself; so much good along with so much bad, both forces fighting it out for dominance.

The fans are passionate, but some of them are running drugs and at least one of them is doing hit jobs for hire on the side. Powell discovers that there is no black and white anywhere: no one and nothing is all good or all evil. He lives in an almost untenable situation where he sees dead bodies regularly from the hundreds of murders in the city each month.

If you're American and don't know a lot about our neighbors to the south, this book is a good start. You will leave with an appreciation for the Mexican culture's sense of fun and of family, and of the way they are able to live good lives in what seems like a hopeless situation. As a journalist, he includes plenty of factual information to support his observations, so you will learn a lot about the Calderón years, the drug cartels, the economic situation, and Mexican Primera leagues soccer. But you'll learn most about the people that make Juárez worth living in, and maybe worth dying for.

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