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Book review Addictive exposure of life in a Mexican drug cartel

Kingdom Cons
by Yuri Herrera,
(An Other Stories, £8.99)

TO WRITE about Mexico and its narco problem today is to venture into a world full of paradoxes, deep complexities and ultimately violent power struggles.

That's what Yuri Herrera has done in a debut novel that unravels not only the recent history of the country but also how it is shaped by narco violence, patronage and corruption.

In Kingdom Cons the narrator Lobo (Wolf), a young songwriter and accordionist of corrido folk ballads, describes the inner world of a narco cartel where “the King” reigns supreme. Born into a marginalised family and with no formal education Lobo, aka “the Artist,” nevertheless produces epic songs about the daily events he experiences.

One day, while entertaining a drunk in a bar, he encounters the man who will transform his life. “He was a king and around him everything became meaningful. Men gave their lives for him, women gave birth for him, he protected and bestowed and in the kingdom, through his grace, each and every subject had a precise place.”

After witnessing the King shooting down a man in a bar, Lobo decides to follow him to his court. There he reconstructs the cartel world in a language full of colloquialisms but elevated by a register that is intensely lyrical and universal.

The absolute “monarch” lives under constant threat from the people who surround him — the Heir, the Manager, the Gringo, the Journalist. He faces power being taken away from him by rival cartels, the police and the military. He's also subjected to sorcery from the Witch, whose only ambition is to instal her daughter, the Commoner, as queen of the court.

Lobo becomes the court favourite and meanders through the corridors of power, where he discovers how the narco world operates. He falls in love with the Commoner and witnesses the conspiracies against the Heir and his accomplices.

Gradually, Lobo's admiration for the King turns into doubt and ultimately total disappointment. He discovers that there is no loyalty between “courtiers” and that all in the King's entourage consider everyone else as dead meat, generating a continuous sense of terror and threat.

Part fable, part epic, Kingdom Cons proves that Herrera is one of the most important and vital novelists writing in Mexico today. A short and masterfully conceived novel, translated by Lisa  Dillman, its poetic narratives and incomparable prose expose the archetypes of a narco world that still operates in Latin America.

As the writer Valeria Luiselli says, “Yuri Herrera must be 1,000 years old. Nothing else explains the vastness of his understanding.”

 

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