God’s Middle Finger
Author: Richard Grant
Genre: Travel Narrative
Original Release: March 4, 2008
Although I have only been averaging one (usually small) trip a year, I am a traveler at heart. I love visiting new areas, learning about their culture and soaking up as many sights as I can see. Unfortunately, travel is expensive, and I have nowhere near the resources to go abroad as often as I would like. That’s where my addiction to travel narratives comes in. I am a huge sucker for a good travel book so I can romanticize about places unseen and live vicariously through the authors. It’s also fun to read about places that would not be at the top of my must-visit list, especially those that are generally considered dangerous for American tourists (or anyone in general).
God’s Middle Finger is one such travel narrative that caught my eye while perusing Portland, Oregon’s legendary Powell’s Books. Author Richard Grant, a thrill-seeking Englishman, decided he wanted to visit the infamously lawless land of the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. Widely considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world, the Sierra Madre is almost entirely controlled by narcotraficantes (drug traffickers). Law enforcement is sporadic, and the majority of officers are corrupt. It’s basically anything goes, and murder, rape and kidnapping are all common occurrences.
Generally it’s a bad idea to visit the area, but Grant was lured by his sense of adventure as well as his genuine interest in the way of life of its civilians. His initial plan was to follow the nearly 900 mile long range from beginning to end, all while finding locals to act as guides. The beginning of his journey is essentially a game of “pass the gringo”, as he is transferred from one local to another, working his way through the mountains. He is frequently told not to travel alone, but he grows cocky the farther he goes, and eventually rides solo.
Not smart. The book’s prologue directly tells us what’s to come — it opens with Grant being hunted in the middle of the night by two drunk men. Naturally, this happened while traveling alone, unarmed, and in the dark. It’s a hell of a way to open a book, and I was hooked immediately after that point.
It takes a long time for the book to come back to the prologue, and when it does, it ends rather abruptly, but the journey to that point is a very fun read. Grant encounters a number of ridiculous people on the way, most of whom are either heavily armed and/or drunk. He attends religious ceremonies that feature natives getting piss drunk and beating the hell out of each other. He goes treasure hunting with a friendly Mormon, snorts cocaine with the local police, binge drinks with forceful drug lords, and even attempts to teach English at one of the rare local elementary schools. And, of course, he gets hunted in the wild.
As you would guess, there is a lot of craziness contained in this book, and it makes for a very quick read. Grant also generously shares some fascinating history lessons that provide some insight into the Sierra Madre’s culture. It’s hard to imagine that such a ruthless land exists mere minutes from the U.S. border, and it’s also shocking to hear just how much the Mexican economy relies on its drug trafficking (most of which is purchased here). Fans of adventure, travel and/or history should look up God’s Middle Finger — you won’t be disappointed.
As a companion piece to this novel, tomorrow I will be writing about the 1948 classic film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.