By coincidence, the day I finished reading Francisco Goldman’s The Interior Circuit, I read a front-page article in The Washington Post entitled “An Egalitarian Kidnapping Epidemic,” describing the horrific increase in kidnappings in Mexico last year. The feature article begins with an account of a woman named Adrian Carrillo, a shop owner, who has been kidnapped twice during the past two years. The article further gives the Human Rights Council’s figure for the number of people kidnapped in the country in 2013 as 27,740, though the government’s figure is 1698. What’s here related to Goldman’s major book? It’s the answer to that question that is so disturbing, because Goldman concludes that the recent spurt in kidnappings in the Distrito Federal (i.e., Mexico City) are directly the result of orchestration by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (the PRI), which returned to power in 2012.
The Interior Circuit does not begin with such grisly happenings. Rather, Goldman (who is Guatemalan by heritage but born and educated in the United States), begins his memoir much more personally with a brief account of his wife’s, Aura’s freak accident which lead to her death five years earlier, and his sense that he can finally begin to move on, though the grieving is still there. Goldman’s a sometime novelist, whose works include The Ordinary Seaman, an unforgettable novel about illegal immigrants in the United States, published in 1997. But he’s also a talented journalist, typically writing about Latin American politics; and he’s a memoirist, whose passionate account of his wife’s death, Say Her Name, appeared in 2011. In short, a writer of extraordinary talents as well as a gifted conversationalist as I can attest, based on my singular meeting with him a dozen years ago.
The opening of the current memoir begins with what I would call a love affair with Mexico City, where Goldman typically spends part of each year. He tells us that he’s now “been mourning Aura longer than [he] knew her,” and then he segues into a fascinating description of Mexico City’s maddening street system, especially intimidating because he wants to take driving lessons so he can feel comfortable about driving a car in the city, but both the traffic and the streets (as every visitor knows) are intimidating. He describes the city as a labyrinth. The Guía Roji (the city map booklet) shows “220 pages of zone-by-zone maps; at its front 178 additional pages of indexes list some 99,100 streets, and 6,400 colonias, or neighborhoods.” If
that isn’t enough, some of the street names appear multiple times. Thus, one map quadrant “reveals 82 different Mexico City streets named Abasolo,” 259 named Morelos, and so on. You get the picture. It is so easy to get lost. Still, Goldman begins his driving lessons.
Goldman makes hash of the country’s politics when he moves on to another kind of traffic: drugs. “The horrific violence of Mexico’s narco was is, of course, intimately tied to the political corruption that is the PRI’s seemingly ineradicable institutional legacy. To fight endemic lawlessness, Mexico needs leaders committed to lawfulness. Now Mexico has a
president [Peña Nieto] who has defended murder and rape as legitimate uses of force.” Goldman talks about the student protests in 2012 and about the DF’s traditional exemption from the worst brutality—including kidnappings—of the drug trade. But, with seventy percent, as he estimates, of the economy tried up with narco trade, Mexico City finally became as violent as the rest of the country.
When he moves on to kidnappings, Goldman reveals that he, also, has been kidnapped—once—and faced any number of close encounters with death (several of them quite violent) in Mexico, thirteen close calls in fact. One might ask why he has remained in Mexico. A simple answer is that he loves the city, in spite of its risk; another is that as a journalist he has written about narco traffic and government malfeasance numerous times, not only in Mexico. Here’s a statistic that I found particularly scary: “Throughout the DF, all the places where drugs are sold and distributed are protected and controlled by police who guarantee their dealers’ impunity.”
What with drug cartels fighting one another, corrupt policemen, judges, and politicians, it’s an overwhelmingly negative picture. Obviously, Goldman is depressed about the city’s future, particularly because of the celebrated mass kidnapping of twelve young men and women in 2012. For at least a year, it looked as if the event was going to be ignored by officials, covered up. But, then, finally, when the bodies were located and identified, Goldman felt a ray of hope, but nothing more than that. And, worse—and this dovetails with the article in The Washington Post—he concludes that the totally random killings of people in Mexico and the kidnappings are “just for fun,” because if you kill, maim, and kidnap for no reason at all, you have effectively frightened the hell out of everyone. You control them.
I can think of a half a dozen meanings of Goldman’s title, but I’ll leave them for you to discover when you read his book. Do read the book.
Francisco Goldman: Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle
Grove Press, 352 pp., $26
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.