Friday, April 23, 2010

Book: Do They Know I’m Running?, by David Corbett (2010)

Full disclosure: David Corbett is a friend. Fuller disclosure: His latest novel is terrific.

Life has not been kind to the Montalvo brothers, orphaned young and living with their Salvadoran aunt in Northern California. Roque is a talented young guitarist stumbling toward manhood. Godo is a shell of himself following his tour with the Marines in Iraq. Their situation only becomes more difficult when their uncle Faustino is deported. Roque agrees to travel to El Salvador and bring Faustino back along a treacherous route controlled by criminal gangs. Godo stays behind to work with their criminal cousin Happy, who has organized Faustino’s return. Both soon discover that Happy has an agenda all his own, one that will force Roque to take others on his journey.

Do They Know I’m Running? is written with a reporter’s eye and a poet’s heart. It’s wildly ambitious, packed with richly detailed characters, showing how distant spots on the globe from Central America to the Middle East are inextricably connected. Its vast scope occasionally threatens to become sprawl, but David always narrows his focus at exactly the right time to the things that matter: the obligations we all shoulder, the burdens we choose to ignore, the unspoken commitments to our loved ones. That intense interest in the human costs of 21st century life has produced a terrific, heartbreaking book that’s one of the year’s best.