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Mexico: Stories

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3.31  ·  Rating details ·  294 ratings  ·  122 reviews
The unforgettable characters in Josh Barkan’s astonishing and beautiful story collection—chef, architect, nurse, high school teacher, painter, beauty queen, classical bass player, plastic surgeon, businessman, mime—are simply trying to lead their lives and steer clear of violence. Yet, inevitably, crime has a way of intruding on their lives all the same. A surgeon finds hi ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 24th 2017 by Hogarth
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Josh Barkan The version we get of Mexico, in the U.S. press, is very limited. In the U.S. press there is only the violence or there is only the fiesta and the…moreThe version we get of Mexico, in the U.S. press, is very limited. In the U.S. press there is only the violence or there is only the fiesta and the beach, or there are only poor immigrants. Mexico is infinitely more complex than that. So I want to convey some of that complexity in these stories, capturing a diversity of characters that upends the notion of who is being caught up in the violence in Mexico. I want readers to feel the universal moral challenges conveyed by these stories—not only in terms of the drug cartel violence, but in much more personal ways, in terms of how we treat our spouses, lovers, confront illness, determine our religious belief or lack of it, how we face our personal ambition, how we seek a way out of loneliness, or admit our complicity in state-sanctioned violence, or in our propensity to look at societal problems without taking action. These stories are not polemics against the violence in Mexico, although they strongly cause the reader to reflect upon that violence. The life and death situations that characters face force them to confront their personal problems, and to find optimism and hope—ways out of those problems. So that is what I want the reader to feel—something that forces them to reflect upon their own personal life and decisions because of reading the stories.(less)
Josh Barkan The last two weeks, I have had eighteen interviews with journalists in Mexico about the Spanish translation of "Mexico"--published in Spanish by…moreThe last two weeks, I have had eighteen interviews with journalists in Mexico about the Spanish translation of "Mexico"--published in Spanish by Alfaguara (similar to Knopf) under the title of "Sangre, sudor y México." The reaction in Mexico to the book has been extremely positive. Most of the journalists ask me with pleasure to sign the book. Not one of the journalists in Mexico finds the book an unfair representation of the violence that is taking place in the country, or a negative representation of the country. Rather, as many journalists tell me, the book simply describes the violence that is taking place in the country "as it is." I bring this up because a small subset of readers of the book in the U.S. seem highly preoccupied that this book is somehow unfair or limited in its representation of the violence that has taken the lives of 120,000 people in Mexico (only in the drug war and not including other forms of violence, which, unfortunately, are common). Two days ago, I spoke with a middle class woman in Mexico City, who was renting my wife's apartment. She told me about her group of twelve friends from her high school and she mentioned that eight of the twelve had experienced some form of violence in Mexico City in the last year (being robbed at gunpoint, etc.) I don't say this to indicate in any way that this is the only thing happening in Mexico City, etc. It is not, by any means. There are many wonderful peaceful things happening in Mexico (where I am spending the summer now, with my wife, who is from Mexico City). But many of the readers who question the violence in this book, frankly, have never lived in Mexico. It is clear that they are writing out of good intentions--and especially with good intentions in response to the hateful scapegoating by Donald Trump of many Mexicans and with regard to his desire to build a wall along the border. I respect these good intentions to oppose Trump and his hate, but I would encourage people to learn more about what they are talking about--to consider the fact that in Mexico none of the journalists question the representation of the violence in the book. Rather, what we discuss, sadly, in such interviews, is how this book might help to cause people to reflect in new ways about the violence that is taking place.(less)

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Larry H
Jan 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars on this one.

Mexico has taken a bit of a bad rap in the last 18 months or so, with Donald Trump using his criticism of Mexican immigrants as a launching pad for his (now-successful) run for the American presidency. Although Mexico has so much more to offer the world—culture, history, beauty, cuisine—all too often people choose instead to dwell on the incidence of crime, drugs, violence, and poverty they see portrayed in the media.

Unfortunately, Josh Barkan's new story
...more
Esil
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I don't have a clue why this short story collection has low ratings. Did readers think they were going to read about beach vacations and tasty food? Personally, I thought this collection was really original, engaging, and clever -- it's a bit gritty but it's not over the top. I have read quite a few short story collections lately, and was frustrated by some collections because the stories felt like repetitive variations of the same story -- not so with Mexico. Some stories focus on Americans liv ...more
Diane S ☔
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor
These are such a great grouping of stories. Not only are they well written but they are complete in and of themselves, the most complete of any I have lately read. Mexico City, drugs, cartels, shootings, jockeying for positions in the drug trade and regular people trying to live and work amongst all this violence.

What would you do if you were a chef in a restaurant and El Chapo walks in, tells you that you must create a dish using only two ingredients that will be the best dish he had ever tast
...more
Iris P
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Iris P by: Esil
Mexico: Stories

Mexico Stories by Josh Barkan

★★★★ 4 Stars


"I received a free advance e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you!


In the last decade or so, I've been to Mexico a few times. Like it typically happens when you visit a country on a business trip, I have only been able to get a glimpse of the country's rich culture and its wonderful people. Lucky for me though, my travels haven't exposed me to the dark, violent, corrupt side of the country depicted on Mexico: St
...more
Sadie Forsythe
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
Another reviewer said, "To be honest, I'm not sure Americans really need to hear more violent stories about Mexican crime and corruption. Mexico is a beautiful country that still has much to offer. In my opinion, this book concentrates too much on the negative and gives a narrow view of the country in general." And while I went into the book knowing it was focused on members of the drug cartels, I very early on felt the same as this reviewer and by the end my opinion hadn't changed.

Mexico has su
...more
Joshua Rigsby
These 12 stories follow residents of Mexico City and its outlying areas as they negotiate their inevitable interactions with drug cartels.

We meet a variety of characters: chef, architects (2), painters (3+), migrants, US Soldiers, a beauty queen, a nurse, and writer/journalists (2), most of whom come from the United States, or have strong cultural ties to it.

Nearly every story begins with some version of “down here in Mexico things are different.” Different means things are cheaper, more chaot
...more
Lark Benobi
I enjoyed reading these stories very much. They're smart and they present a view of contemporary Mexico that, although it plays dangerously close to stereotype, always ends up exposing the stereotype rather than succumbing to it.

The stories here unfold a bit like intellectual puzzles at times, where the author/narrator seems to be trying to fit his storytelling into a given preset theme or thesis. I didn't mind this approach here though because the themes were universally thought-provoking. I d
...more
Gary Inbinder
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hard-hitting, sometimes poetic narratives and strong characterizations reveal how crime and corruption impact a variety of lives in surprising ways. An exceptionally well-written collection of short stories set in contemporary Mexico.
Cynthia
Dec 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Mexico is a grouping of stories set in guess where? Mexico. They're told from various expat Americans. Barkin doesn't exactly have a folksy style but there's something of that feel because his point of view feels intimate, as if you're almost thinking along with each character. There also something of travelogue in that Mexico is almost a living breathing component. I came away feeling I had a stronger take on our close neighbor both positive and negative. Did I mention that Barkan writes very w ...more
Gary
Oct 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
It's entitled, "Mexico: Stories," but don't expect sombreros and mariachi bands. Each of the stories herein, written largely in the first-person, are accounts of how an individual's life was affected by an encounter with the criminal culture shaped by drugs that has warped contemporary Mexican society. These is certainly not a book you'll likely find stocked on the shelves of the Mexican Ministry of Tourism.

The stories certainly succeed in establishing a sense of place. It's of a place I certain
...more
Susan Barton
I really wanted to like this book, but I'm sorry to say it just didn't hold my interest. I found the stories to be a little too rambling, wordy and far fetched. Grabbing a little girl in order to cut her finger and add her blood to a meal to be served to El Chapo? Come on.

To be honest, I'm not sure Americans really need to hear more violent stories about Mexican crime and corruption. Mexico is a beautiful country that still has much to offer. In my opinion, this book concentrates too much on th
...more
Marne Wilson
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
I hadn't intended to start this book right after it came in the mail, but I decided to just read the first story, and then I decided to read the next one, and so on, until I ended up reading the whole thing in an intense 48 hours. That's not at all my usual approach to story collections, so it's a testimony to Barkan's skill as a writer. Aside from a few issues with point of view, which he switches too often for my taste, he's a very capable writer. In some short story collections, the main char ...more
Amy Christine Lesher
First, I won an ARC on Goodreads.

Before you sit down to read this book, grab a shot glass and a bottle of liquor (since the book takes place in Mexico grab a bottle of Tequila). Now, play a drinking game: everytime you meet someone who is either an ex -pat or is Mexican but doesn't seem Mexican take a drink; a narco appears in the story, take a drink; violence of any kind, take a drink. If you get to the 10th story and you're still playing stop. Why couldn't Barkan show other sides of Mexico? No
...more
Melissa Daniels
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
The version of Mexico shown to us in the U.S. is all beaches or just poor immigrants. I was pleased to read throughout the stories, however, that this is not what this book talks about. All the stories in Mexico Stories are centered around the drug cartels or gangs in the cities of Mexico. Each story is centered around seemingly normal people and how they get wrapped up in the gory bussinness of drugs and gangs. I enjoyed most of the chapters of the book, which is uncommon for me to realize in b ...more
Tonstant Weader
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-story
Josh Barkan’s second short story collection, Mexico, focuses on the intersection of cartel violence and daily life in Mexico. Many, though not all, of the stories are written from the perspective of Americans living in Mexico, architects, teachers, journalists, and lawyers. Most blithely assume they will be untouched, like the journalist who writes about murder and corruption for American consumption, assuming his American identity keeps him safe from the corrupt. Even after he is threatened, he ...more
Matxalen (matxi_books)
3* (rounding up)

Although I really enjoyed some of this stories mostly this read wasn't for me.
Most of all I had problems with the writing... and it just not being compelling enough!

Thanks to Blogging for Books and Netgalley I was able to get a copy of this for review.

[full review now on the blog, here!]
Adriana
Dec 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Made up of a very intense and affecting series of short stories all set in, or very near to, Mexico City, the tales told in this book tell of a country mired in violence thru the people that call it home. It's bloody and violent, yet it still reads a bit like a love story to the things that make Mexico so special.

Each story is told in a voice that feels authentic to the character telling it. Barkan did a great job of putting himself in the headspace of a varied set of characters that help show t
...more
Kasa Cotugno
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This incredibly rich collection of stories has a truly original theme. In each case, the central character is a professional American who has relocated to Mexico, and finds themselves embroiled with the cartels. The title of the first story, the Chef and El Chapo, sets the tone. It's intriguing to see how Barkan unspools each situation, all different with different results yet remaining similar as beads on a necklace. For each protagonist, these encounters provide a jolt of today's reality in an ...more
Lukas
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an eclectic collection of short stories set in Mexico. It's beautifully written, and the realistic characters jump from the page. Highly recommended!
Kelsey Kim
Mar 09, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matthew
Mar 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Rarely do I "judge a book by its cover" but every once in awhile I'll dive into something based solely upon its artwork, Mexico being my latest endeavor. Coupled with a rather intriguing summary on its inner cover and I was already excited by the possibility of uncovering a looked-over gem. Sadly it never really followed through.

Mexico is a collection of loosely-connected short stories - the connection being the country of Mexico itself, and the crime that riddles its streets - told through the
...more
Angie
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, short-story
What a mind blowing book MEXICO is! Other reviews I read complained about not knowing about the amount of violence this book entails, which boggles my mind due to the fact it is mentioned in the blurb. Nonetheless, the macabre content is just an important aspect of these short stories as humor, courage, and love are also crucial components to shaping the atmosphere of these stories. Additionally, the cartel in one way or another represents a sizable portion of the plots within this book, therefo ...more
Erin Cataldi
Mar 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I've been on a short story kick and was definitely in the mood for this. Some of the short stories in here were slam dunks and others were odd ducks, with rushed endings and bizarre plots. For example, the opening story is beyond bizarre and flirts with cannibalism, drug lords, and ancient Aztec gods. All of the stories revolve around Mexico City and many of the characters are Americans or whites living in the city, viewing it through their lenses. Most, if not all, are crime stories as they app ...more
Julian
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I came across this one while walking around the library. I had zero expectations, but even those were betrayed.

I read one story, and that was enough to stop. The chef of fancy restaurant in Mexico City tries to find a meal that would prevent al Chapo, yes, that Chapo, from killing him. The premise is based on true accounts of El Chapo arriving at busy restaurants and taking over, but after that it becomes silly. El Chapo is portrayed as some sort of ridiculous Bond villain (even boasting about h
...more
Lauren
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
LOVED this!! I think the criticism of it on here is a little harsh given how much I enjoyed it. I don't usually like short stories and almost always read novels, but I've been branching out cautiously and am so glad I came across Mexico. It's DARK and gritty, and there were several passages that truly disturbed or scared me. I do have some critiques that look pretty well represented in the reviews, but overall this was a great read.
Hannah
***I received an ARC from Crown Publishing (an imprint of Hogarth) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***

I'm a little torn as to how I felt about this book. While Barkan's writing was good and I found the subject fascinating, I expected a wider variation due to the title (an entire country). I appreciated that his characters were different people, but I would have liked more variation in voice and a heads-up that all of the stories were about the effect of drug cartels on their live
...more
Clifford
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Taken individually, these are terrific stories. There's a kind of sameness to them, however. Always there is a terrible crime, a killing or maiming, usually carried out by a gang or drug dealer. The author knows Mexico better than I do--I haven't been there for ten years--but he paints a very bleak picture. I still recommend the book, but I wouldn't read it all at once the way I did. Read a story, savor it, and wait a bit before you read the next one.
Joan Thrasher
Mar 29, 2017 marked it as to-read
You love ,laugh ,cry , all emotions are in this book . Loved reading this book .
Harker
May 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
Rating: 2.27 Stars

The Chef and El Chapo: (3 Stars) while I'm not sure I understood the point of the story, it was well written and full of emotion: passion for cooking, terror when El Chapo takes over the restaurant, and fear/regret once the chef has completed the task set before him. The ending felt a twee bit hollow, but I hope the chef was able to find comfort in his decision.

The God of Common Names: (3 Stars) this is the story of a teacher and the Romeo & Juliet situation he finds betwee
...more
Lynda
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly readable compilation of 12 fictional stories taking place in different areas of Mexico with subjects ranging from elderly artists to pre-teen students. The narrative of each short story pulled me in and although strung together by only incident upon incident of drug related events or bullying, most seemed plausible and intriguing. I Look forward to more from his author!
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JOSH BARKAN won the Lightship International Short Story Prize and has been a finalist for the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, the Paterson Fiction Prize, and the Juniper Prize for Fiction. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He spent much of his childhood abroad, living in Kenya, Tanzania, France and India. After attending Yale University, where he gr ...more
“It may sound crazy, but people like to eat what they are. If they have voracious habits they can't change, they like sweet foods. If they are tight with their money, they prefer to eat bread and mashed potatoes. If they are flamboyant they like to eat elaborately thin vegetables, fried and piled up high like a fancy hat. We are all cannibals, eating the secrets we have within.” 1 likes
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