Tuesday, November 3, 2009

God's Middle Finger, Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre

God's Middle Finger
Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre By Richard Grant


Twenty miles south of the Arizona-Mexico border, the rugged, beautiful Sierra Madre mountains begin their dramatic ascent. Almost 900 miles long, the range climbs to nearly 11,000 feet and boasts several canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. The rules of law and society have never taken hold in the Sierra Madre, which is home to bandits, drug smugglers, Mormons, cave-dwelling Tarahumara Indians, opium farmers, cowboys, and other assorted outcasts. Outsiders are not welcome; drugs are the primary source of income; murder is all but a regional pastime. The Mexican army occasionally goes in to burn marijuana and opium crops — the modern treasure of the Sierra Madre — but otherwise the government stays away. In its stead are the drug lords, who have made it one of the biggest drug-producing areas in the world.

Fifteen years ago, journalist Richard Grant developed what he calls "an unfortunate fascination" with this lawless place. Locals warned that he would meet his death there, but he didn't believe them — until his last trip. During his travels Grant visited a folk healer for his insomnia and was prescribed rattlesnake pills, attended bizarre religious rituals, consorted with cocaine-snorting policemen, taught English to Guarijio Indians, and dug for buried treasure. On his last visit, his reckless adventure spiraled into his own personal heart of darkness when cocaine-fueled Mexican hillbillies hunted him through the woods all night, bent on killing him for sport.

With gorgeous detail, fascinating insight, and an undercurrent of dark humor, God's Middle Finger brings to vivid life a truly unique and uncharted world.

The Washington Post - Bill Gifford
This intriguing and ultimately terrifying Mexican walkabout belongs to that subgenre of travel writing that can generally be summed up in four words: Should have stayed home…That [Grant] navigates this dangerous land safely (for the most part) is a testament to his drinking abilities—and his thoroughgoing command of Mexican curses. ("Sons of obscene perpetrations!" is how he translates a standard Sierra Madre toast.) In one fascinating scene after another, he meets peasant marijuana farmers, very many drunks and a few Mormons and Mennonites, who fled south for various political and religious reasons. He spends time with the indigenous Tarahumara and memorably attends an Easter festival in a Tarahumara town that descends into total madness, fueled by the local corn-brewed beer, tesguino. (The local statue depicting God is missing all but one of its fingers; hence the book's title.)

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Richard Grant is an award-winning travel writer who has published his work in Men's Journal, Esquire, and Details, among others. He is also the author of American Nomads. Grant currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.