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As we approached the two chairs for the author talk, Charles Bowden asked me which one was for the Holy Inquisitor, I replied, this one here is for the bullfighter. As long as there's no bull, he replied.
Bowden signed my copy of Murder City, "thank you for helping me."
I'm conflicted about the dedication. Sure, it was his book tour, for his book. They're his stories from the front lines of the killing fields of Ciudad Juarez. He blends lyric storytelling with brutal transcriptions of inhumanity. There's room for skepticism. Not about the veracity of the stories but about the point of view, and any other bias.
We talked about a lot of things and I picked four of my favorite sections for him to read. I didn't have a chance to ask him about the tone of his writing about a pregnant teen in Juarez Then he has a really troubling line in the book in which he talks about a pregnant teen. "...and I must say it is their fault, the breed too often, the have careless ways, they should read more and improve their minds."
I polled a few friends and acquaintances who'd attended and here's what they had to say about Bowden's talk.
"I got the impression he somehow dismiss or doesn't give enough importance to the so called femicidios. It surprise me his answer that the murder rate for women in Juarez is the same as in other Mexican cities. It was my impression -without any hard data in hand- that the rate for Juarez was higher," said television journalist Carlos Rajo. He said Bowden's most memorable anecdote was about his first meeting with a repentant hit that ends with both men praying.
L.A. painter and visual artist Victoria Delgadillo has been knows a lot about efforts stop the killing of women in Ciudad Juarez. She didn't like Bowden's comment during the talk and in his book that more men are killed in Ciudad Juarez than women. "I found Charles Bowden's matter-of-fact dismissal of the activism surrounding the women who have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez somewhat offensive. As one of the activist for the victim families there, I know we did not set out on this journey to minimize the other tragedies occurring in that city, nor to diminish the value of all the young men pushed into lives of crime due to the economy in Mexico." She said she continues to push for answers. "Recently, a CalArts graduate (born and raised in Texas) told me that the desert there had it secrets. He said this, as if such tragedies occur naturally and no one could do anything to change it. I refuse to accept that analogy."
Bowden's book on Ciudad Juarez joins the works of Bruno Traven (The Rebellion of the Hanged) and Graham Greene (The Power and the Glory). It's narrative based on reporting. Some focuses on the plight of the subject, other writing, like Bowden's includes the writer as a main protagonist. Regardless of the point of view, they're important stories about Mexico and Mexicans in a time of crisis.
Photos by Gary Leonard