Reviews of Mexico by Josh Barkan



by Josh Barkan

Mexico by Josh Barkan X
Mexico by Josh Barkan
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  • Published:
    Jan 2017, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
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Book Summary

With unflinching honesty and exquisite tenderness, Josh Barkan masterfully introduces us to characters that are full of life, marking the arrival of a new and essential voice in American fiction.

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 himself forced into performing a risky procedure on a narco killer. A teacher struggles to protect lovestruck students whose forbidden romance has put them in mortal peril. A painter's freewheeling ways land him in the back of a kidnapper's car. Again and again, the walls between "ordinary life" and cartel violence are shown to be paper thin, and when they collapse the consequences are life-changing.

These are stories about transformation and danger, passion and heartbreak, terror and triumph. They are funny, deeply moving, and stunningly well-crafted, and they tap into the most universal and enduring human experiences:  love even in the face of danger and loss, the struggle to grow and keep faith amidst hardship and conflict, and the pursuit of authenticity and courage over apathy and oppression.


How the hell "El Chapo" Guzmán chose my restaurant to come into, I'll never know. It was just like the stunt he's done in a few other cities—Nuevo León and Culiacán. Guzmán—"Shorty"—it was him, with all his narco clothing. He had on a baseball cap with some of that digitalized camouflage the U.S. Army invented for Iraq, and a beige down parka. It was one of those cold days in June, after the rainy season has started, and the most badass narco in the country must have felt just a touch of a chill. Crazy! In my restaurant. With fifteen bodyguards swarming around him. The guards came in first. They all had AK-47s swinging in their arms. They came in fast and polite, rushing past the maître d'. The leader of the guards, a tall guy with a neatly trimmed thin mustache and a diamond earring, swooped into the center of the dining room and yelled out, "The Boss will be coming soon. Everyone give us your purses and ...

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BookBrowse Review


Despite the gritty view revealed through the eyes of its complex and flawed characters, and the pervasive violence woven throughout, Josh Barkan's short story collection is a love song to Mexico City. As we spend brief moments with ordinary people living in this large and dynamic metropolis, we are introduced to its food, art, architecture, and even the public transportation system—creating a vivid sensorial experience. By the middle of the collection I found myself weary of the constant presence of the cartels and the random acts of violence they impart on the lives of ordinary citizens, but perhaps that is the author's point: The ever-present threat of violence is exhausting and may numb citizens to its effects. It's difficult to stay in a constant state of shock and outrage...continued

Full Review (724 words).

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(Reviewed by Sarah Tomp).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Masterful stories that peel away at the thin border between everyday life and profane violence in modern-day Mexico.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Barkan turns in a near-perfect debut collection that's addictive, delicious, and confounding in its knife-edge ride through the hard lives of its characters.

Barkan's stories would satisfy like neat shots of tequila if not for the lingering little worm he leaves wriggling at the bottom of the glass, a reminder of the usual consequence of good intentions.

Publishers Weekly
For a collection about such a vibrant, complex country, the writer's reliance on generalities is disappointing ... as if its details were sourced not from experience but from a tour guide.

Author Blurb Christopher Merrill, author of The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War
[Barkan] possesses the skill, nerve, and compassion to tell unforgettable stories from across the border, stories that are by turns violent, tender, heart-breaking, haunted, and surprising, rendered with such exacting care that readers will answer that question with a resounding Yes.

Author Blurb Jaime Manrique author of Cervantes Street
Macabre, outrageously funny, touching, and irresistibly readable, the stories in this collection depict with boldness the complexity, and madness, of contemporary Mexican society...We have here the work of an original, terrifying and spectacularly gifted storyteller.

Author Blurb Jennifer Clement, author of Prayers for the Stolen (PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, 2015)
Mexico is a poignant and original collection of stories. 'In Mexico everything's about excess' the narrator explains and Josh Barkan proves this truth at every turn. He also reminds us that short stories, when beautifully written, are never short.

Author Blurb Karen Bender, author of Refund (National Book Award Finalist, 2015)
The stories are beautiful, funny, and terrifying; Barkan has created a collection that is utterly riveting and necessary. This is fiction of the highest order; read it now.

Author Blurb Paul Harding, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Tinkers
These stories are wholly immersive, bizarre and recognizable at the same time, vital in their own unrepeatable, artful sensibility.

Author Blurb Steve Almond, author of The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories and Candyfreak
[T]he wonder of these stories is their ability to guide us through this rough terrain without descending into cynicism. As readers, and humans, we are inspired by these tales to "sing in some way of beauty, to raise the spirit of our voices in hope.

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Beyond the Book

American Expats in Mexico

Even if there's a lot of violence portrayed in Josh Barkan's short story collection, statistically, Mexico as a whole is comparable to the United States in overall crime incidents, but areas known to have high drug activity are more likely to include the "headline" crimes such as murder, kidnapping and extortion. In fact, although recent political and public attention has been toward Mexican immigrants in America, an estimated two million Americans live in Mexico.

The most common reason Americans move to Mexico is for the lower cost of living. The mild climate and ease of entering the country and obtaining the proper visa add to its appeal. For people who have gone to Mexico on a trial basis, the warm and welcoming nature of the ...

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