Polit Duenas, Gabriela. Narrating Narcos: Culiacan and Medellin.

Author:Deaver, William O., Jr.
Position:Book review
 
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Polit Duenas, Gabriela. Narrating Narcos: Culiacan and Medellin. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.

The narcotics trade in Latin America has spawned a culture of its own with literature, music, and art that either glorifies or vilifies the drug traffickers. The pervasive violence of this culture has become so ingrained that communities are desensitized to it because dealers and hitmen have replaced guerrillas and dictators as the central topic of interest. In this book, Gabriela Polit Duenas gives a history of the drug trade in Culiacan, Mexico and Medellin, Colombia. While the introduction and first chapter are somewhat pedestrian, the rest of the work is quite interesting and informative.

Each of the nine chapters of the text has sub-categories to clarify differences between the two regions and the sociological, economic, political, and cultural paradigms that have arisen based on the drug trade. Polit Duenas makes lucid points such as, "In Mexico, narco trafficking grew alongside state power, whereas in Colombia it initially developed largely outside the state apparatus and relied on its alliances with other violent actors such as the guerrillas and the paramilitary for its development" (p. 14). She also distinguishes between the vernacular used in Culiacan to a humorous effect in crime novels since it is not alien to those writers versus the distance established by the Colombian writers who seem uneasy with the vernacular of the shantytowns and tend to narrate in first person from a higher social class that admires the criminal element.

The study analyzes the works of various authors from both areas and includes not only research based on critical articles, but interviews with writers, critics, community members, and visits to the actual places described in the novels. Polit Duenas also gives perspectives on works by more famous writers, which to her seem one-sided and tangential, if not opportunistic since these works are atypical of their literary production. Instead, she concentrates on authors from the regions who live the quotidian violence while blurring the line between fact and fiction since some of them have suffered reprisals due to their literary depictions. Some of the authors are journalists who have faced threats from narcos as well as from the government, which often is in collusion with the dealers and hitmen. In fact, she states, Mexican reporters "explained that they do not sign certain articles as a...

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