Steev Hise's Reviews > Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez

Dreamland by Charles Bowden
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's review
Jun 24, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: border, own-it
Read from March 30 to April 27, 2011 — I own a copy

Charles Bowden is one of my heroes in the field of telling-it-like-it-is. This book is about the situation on the u.s./mexico border and the drug war, like most of his last 10 or so books. Dreamland focuses mainly on a certain situation that happened in Ciudad Juarez in 2004-2005 known as the House of Death, a situation I was aware of while making my documentary about Juarez, although some of the minute detail was stuff I'd glossed over or blocked from memory.

Still, the basic facts related are somewhat old news for me, and so I can see how this book would have a much more intense, mind-blowing impact for someone who has not already studied the extremes of Juarez. At any rate the book is filled with Bowden's now trademark poetic prose, lyrical meditations on a systemic situation that seems to be impossible to even imagine a real solution to, and hence the title of the book, because a sort of state of dreaming is the only reaction that allows for some semblance of sanity or normal life, once one is exposed to the horrors involved.

Bowden has covered much of this blood-soaked ground before. But this time he collaborates with the artist Alice Leora Briggs to bring a unique format to the work, perhaps as a way to somehow get through to people in a new way, since the standard journalistic reportage has not worked. Briggs' illustrations bring a sort of macabre comic-book style to the volume, closely mirroring the text page-by-page, but not with strictly realist depictions - they are mixtures of iconic symbols repeated in patterns, along with allegorical pictures that seem to combine a sort of medieval, Canterbury Tales style with a gritty, courtroom sketch kind of aesthetic. Rows and columns of bullets, skulls, flowers, hands, and beer cans cavort across the page with skeletons and priests and gun-toting federales. It's a very fitting accompaniment to Bowden's words.

It's difficult for me to judge this book, again because I'm already so familiar with what it tells of. But the odd format as well as its artiness and its grim subject matter makes me wonder what the intended or expected audience could possibly be. Juarez completists like myself? Die-hard Bowden fans? Art junkies and comic-book goths? It's hard to say. But I'd recommend this to anyone who might appreciate a different look at the surreal but violent reality of the mexican narco war.

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Reading Progress

04/22/2011 page 79
45.0% "lyrical, poetic, yet brutal and dark."
04/25/2011 page 108
62.0% "more detail about the House of Death than I've seen before. amazing illustrations."
04/26/2011 page 155
89.0% "I think Bowden may be in a little bit of a rut. although it's a beautiful, sad, dark, lyrical, poetic, disturbing rut."
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