Books

Bruce Dinges' Picks

Amigoland
Casares fulfills the promise of "Brownsville," his much acclaimed 2003 short-story collection, in this debut novel in which two cantakerous old men find hope and a future at the end of the road. Seventy-something Celestino Rosales springs his estranged ninety-one-year-old brother, Fedencio, from a Brownsville, Texas, nursing home and the squabbling pair set out, in the company of Celestino's housekeeper/lover, on a bus ride into Mexico to settle, once-and-for-all, a much-disputed family story, By turns rollicking and moving, the trio's quest turns into a beautifully rendered meditation on memory and the emotional connections that defy physical and geographical borders.
Blue Tattoo, The: The Life of Olive Oatman
The 1851 Oatman tragedy continues to fascinate. Close on the heels of Brian McKinty's superb "The Oatman Massacre" (a 2005 SWBOY pick), Mifflin writes a haunting tale of captivity and a life lived in two worlds, as she painstaking separates fact from fiction in the sad story of Olive Oatman, the teenage girl held captive and returned to white society, where she became the reluctant central figure in an ongoing morality play projecting the lurid fears of Victorian America. Solid research in manuscript and ethnographic sources, coupled with a graceful writing style and a firm grasp of Olive Oatman's world(s), makes this a compelling and worthwhile read.
Borderline Americans
In this thoughtful and thought-provoking study, Benton-Cohen examines Cochise County history through the prism of shifting definitions of race and nationality. Viewed in this light, longstanding conflicts between town and country, agriculture and mining acquire deeper shades of meaning as prologue and aftermath of the countyís defining eventóthe 1917 Bisbee Deportation. Scholars will applaud Benton-Cohenís thorough research and challenging analysis, while general readers will welcome her graceful prose and her eye for compelling characters and stories.
Crossers: A Novel
Past and present collide in this gritty borderlands novel. A successful Wall Street executive grieving for his wife killed in the 9/ll terrorist attacks seeks peace on his family's ranch outside Patagonia, Arizona. Instead, he encounters a hauntingly beautiful landscape scarred by violence. Caputo creates an unforgettable portrait of the new west, peopled by old-time ranchers and modern-day drug runners, where right and wrong are seldom obvious and where necessity calls the shots. His riveting tale has the chilling ring of truth.
Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel
Lily Casey Smith takes her place among the growing circle of spunky western heroines in memoirist ("The Glass Castle") Walls' "true-life" novel based on her grandmother's adventures as a ranch woman and school teacher in West Texas, New Mexico, and northern Arizona. Walls is a talented writer blessed with a quirky family. Readers will quickly find themselves swept along in a current that is perhaps broader than it is deep, but nonetheless provides a fun ride as Lily clobbers adversity and cuts her own path across a hard land.
Into the Beautiful North: a Novel
Urrea finds abundant material to satirize in U.S.-Mexico border policies. After all the men leave for economic opportunity in el Norte, the women of a small Sinaloan seacoast village, inspired by the cinematic heroes of The Magnificent Seven, dispatch a quartet of youngsters to find recruits in the U.S. to drive out banditos who have taken over the town. Urrea keeps readers turning pages with his fine writing, sympathetic characters, and sharp insights into the absurdities of life on both sides of the border.
No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels
ATF agent, and former UA football player, Dobyns recounts in suspenseful detail his two-year assignment infiltrating the notoriously secretive Hells Angels motorcycle gang in Arizona. Dobyns' ability to portray his targets as flesh-and-blood human beings (some of whose traits he admires) and the edgy description of his own descent into the shadow world of drugs and casual violence open a revealing window on law enforcement's war on outlaw motorcycle gangs and elevate his story above run-of-the-mill true crime memoirs.
Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History
Of the three books about the 1871 massacre of peaceful Apaches on Aravaipa Creek published in as many years, Jacoby's thoroughly researched and clearly written study casts the widest loop and provides the most coherent analysis of the cultural, economic, and social forces that produced the attack, while cogently assessing the massacre's enduring legacy for O'odham, Hispanic, Anglo, and Apache perpetrators and victims. Jacoby paints a fascinating portrait of multi-ethnic conflict and cooperation in the Southwest borderlands.
War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S. - Mexican War
A shift in perspective can sometimes produce new insights. This is the case with DeLay's examination of the causes and consequences of the U.S.-Mexican War that takes into account decades of mounting pressure from Indian tribes along Mexico's northern frontier. Starting with the question, why did article 11 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo obligate the U.S. to halt Indian raids into Mexico, DeLay examines the political, economic, and cultural forces that generated widespread violence; the consequences for the struggling Mexican state; and the impact on U.S. diplomacy. This insightful and gracefully written study casts fresh light on an important and much-studied era in southwestern borderlands history.

About Bruce Dinges

Bruce Dinges is director of publications for the Arizona Historical Society.

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