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February 9, 2016

Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: ‘Dreamland’ by Charles Bowden and Alice Leora Briggs

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Bowden knew the border well. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Charles Bowden, the desert journalist who provided a view of America’s borderlands that was compelling, terrifying and beautiful, died on Aug. 30, leaving a legacy of dark visions and dark journeys that came together in vivid form in 2010’s “Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez.”

The book, a collaboration of Bowden’s words and Alice Leora Briggs’ drawings, is a hybrid work of gonzo journalism, graphic expression and poetic violence that uses a harrowing incident in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, that involved a U.S. Department of Homeland Security informant committing a brazen murder as a jumping off point to the upside down horror of the drug war in the city that shares a border with El Paso, Texas.

For Bowden, covering the border was a vocation. He submerged himself in it in a way that was uncomfortable to read, yet important and unique. His many books about the borderlands — “Desierto,” “Blood Orchid” and “Mezcal” to name a few — provided a view of the place few others were willing to go.

I met him once, having invited him in 1995 to speak at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff as part of a series related to a literary journal, “Thin Air,” that I worked on. He showed up looking like he had just arrived from the wilderness and explained that he had just found out a friend he worked with in Mexico had been murdered. Emotionally shattered, he still made the trip, and gave an incredible reading from material from his then-forthcoming book “Blood Orchid.”

Of his many books, “Dreamland” is certainly one of the strangest, its surreal images matched by surreal text. It’s a perfect tribute to an incredible writer.

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