Barrio Bushido is disturbing and violent and poetic and a profound social statement. Barrio Bushido is Ben Bac Sierra’s first novel and, as graphic and absolutely horrific as it was at times I couldn’t stop reading or envisioning this as a really great movie script in the same vein as Trainspotting or Fight Club. Barrio is the gritty realistic sad tale of three gang members, growing up in a Latin ghetto area of California. The main character is Lobo, the wolf, leader of the pack. He is a strange disenfranchised soul with the heart of a poet. He spends his days in a drugged haze knowing he is inevitably headed towards a fate that involves self destruction. The bull, Toro, is babysat by a television when his mother goes to work cleaning office buildings and homes. While his sister can come along on the jobs, he cannot because he is too rough and so on one of these occasions when he is left home, as a five-year-old, he falls out the window of his apartment building. He waits and wanders after the fall searching for help that doesn’t come. As a youth he will find a place in the marines where he tries to earn respect and the love of his mother. He endures the Gulf War and is little more than a young adult when he learns to wear the scars of his many battles with pride. Santiago is the third pillar of the odd triad of brothers. He pulls the drooping needles from his parent’s arms and feeds his brothers and sisters. Benjamin Bac Sierra is an intense writer. He manages to create empathy for characters that are completely vile outlaws. Bac Sierra knows his topic well. He is a former homeboy himself and a veteran of the Gulf War. The author himself, a former homeboy and a veteran of the Gulf War, clearly knows his topic well. He grew up in San Francisco’s Mission, joined the Marine Corps at 17 and saw front line combat in the Gulf War. In an incredible transformation he managed to complete a Bachelor of Arts at U.C. Berkeley after an honourable discharge from the marines and is now a professor at City College in San Francisco. Bac Sierra’s characters are nothing if not realistic. They jump off the page fighting. Bac Sierra is a masterful storyteller with a true strenth for characterization. Lobo is no cliche; instead he is a gangster with a weakness for his girlfriend Sheila and a strangely romantic soul. He is placed in an impossible situation when a rival gang member, he is supposed to kill ends up kidnapping Sheila to turn the tables on Lobo. Lobo is a strange contradiction, speaking in swear words and poetry at the same time. These characters are remarkable and magnetic. The story is gritty and compelling in the same way some traffic accidents are. But this story isn’t for everyone. It is a fiction story with a high degree of realism and extreme violence. This is a brave first novel rooted in some reality. It will be very interesting to see where the author goes next, also if someone options this as a script.
Barrio Bushido, by Benjamin Bac Sierra, El Leon Literary Arts, $20.00 US., 282 pages. Fiction.
Thriftymommas rating $$$ out of $$$$$. Excellent characterization and dramatic plot, but too much hostile language towards women and the violence, while understandable in this context is really over the top.)
I am giving a copy of Barrio Bushido away this month as part of my I Heart Books Event.
1. Follow me on GFC (google friend connect.)
2. Leave your contact information so I can reach you if you win.
I will draw for this one on Feb. 27th. Open to Canada and US.
Reviewed by Paula Schuck