Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mexican book reviews

Soul-searching amid the debris

Mexican individualism and violence

Mañana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans. By Jorge Castañeda. Knopf; 320 pages; $27.95. Buy from

Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields. By Charles Bowden. Nation; 320 pages; $27.50 and £15.99.Buy from,

LAST year should have been one long fiesta for Mexico, which celebrated both the centenary of its revolution against Porfirio Díaz, its walrus-moustached dictator, and the bicentenary of its independence from Spain. Instead, the country found itself in a funk: the opening of its economy to foreign trade in the 1990s had not led to the leap in living standards many had hoped for, and the arrival of real democracy in the same decade had not solved many of the country’s old problems. Added to that, the government’s crackdown on drug-trafficking cartels had led to a surge in violence, with apparently little pay-off. It was time for some serious soul-searching.

The Mexican soul holds the answer to many of the country’s problems, writes Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister who now lectures at New York University. Mr Castañeda, who grew up partly overseas, and combines local insight with an outsider’s perspective, sets out to show that the national character—in which he identifies an individualist streak, a discomfort with confrontation, and a suspicion of foreigners (principally los gringos)—is incompatible with the country’s rebirth as an open, competitive economy. Mexico’s institutions have been transformed in theory, but a better mañana will never dawn unless Mexican attitudes change too.

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