Thursday, December 28, 2006

Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s Some Clouds

I read Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s Some Clouds, a detective novel that takes place in Mexico City. He’s the same author who recently co-wrote a novel with Subcomandante Marcos, though I haven’t read that one yet.

The book was very short, and it was unfortunate he didn’t develop the characters a little bit more. Nonetheless, it was a good read, and his depiction of Mexico City is very much like Raymond Chandler’s 1940s Los Angeles, as he obviously loves the city even while probing its seamy side. There is a lot of commentary woven into the story, and the following is an excerpt from a character’s dialogue that I found especially compelling. I might just use it in class as a concise explanation of corruption's deep roots.

The cops in this town are as big a cesspool as they are because there’s big money involved. You know what happens to the lowly motorcycle cop who puts the bite on you for three hundred pesos because you ran a stoplight? At the end of the day he has to kick back fifteen hundred or two grand to his sergeant for letting him work the good intersections, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be out sweeping streets or directing traffic, left to eat shit. The guy has to pay for the maintenance on his own bike, because if he takes it to the shop at the station they’ll steal everything down to the spark plugs and, boom, the guy’s back on the streets again, on foot. And he starts every day with eight liters of gas instead of the twelve he’s allotted, because his major and his chief skimmed off the other four. He pays into a pension plan that doesn’t exist, and a life insurance pool that doesn’t exist either. His sergeant kicks back twenty-five grand to the district chief, who runs hot license plates on the side and takes a bite out of the phony pension fund. You know how the commanders call roll at the start of each day at district headquarters? With an envelope in their hand. Officer so-and-so reporting for duty, and there goes the money into the envelope. The district commander must take in half a million pesos every day. He’s got two officers and all they do is collect money…That’s the system, not a measly three hundred peso bribe…You have to take a step back to be able to see the system (pp.140-141).


Michelle 4:59 PM  

This is one of several english translations of contemporary novels that I use as an option for a writing assignment in my Latin American politics class. We cover 5-6 countries in depth and for each country, I have one [short] book (and intentionally not a 'classic') on a list for the assignment. Students read the book and then write an analytical review, linking some of the book's themes to themes we've discussed in class regarding politics in the country.

To illustrate what an analytical book review of a novel should be (for my class, anyway), I outline a sample paper discussing issues of race and class in one of the Harry Potter books.

I justify it as something akin to 'experiential' learning, since we can't go to LA for real.

I intentially do not include GGM or similar 'classics.'

Greg Weeks 10:23 AM  

That's a good idea--what novels do you use?

Michelle 9:35 PM  

Hi Greg. Sent you my syllabus and assignment. I've read Some Clouds and others of the series, but it looks like I assigned No Happy Ending most recently. It might even be out of print now, or if not, the one I assigned before was. Not all of the series are in print at once.

I had a Brazilian novel before, but it was a little too post-modern and student's didn't really get it. I have yet to find a *short* Brazilian novel in translation, so if you come across one, let me know.

Greg Weeks 7:36 AM  

Now I just need to make time to read them. It's like movies. I can't tell you how many times a student looks at me aghast and says, "You mean you haven't seen X movie?"

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