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Book Review

‘Back to Blood’

1/16/2013

BookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Barb Palar

Little Brown and Company

Oct. 23, 2012

$30

HIV

720 pp.

Every time Tom Wolfe takes on a sacred institution, such as New York City in “Bonfire of the Vanities” or higher education in “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” it’s a bit of an “ouch” for the institution de jour. This time it’s Miami. I don’t even know Miami, let alone care much about it, still, I felt myself flinching for the place.                 

We meet the hero, Nestor Camacho, as he is speeding by boat across Biscayne Bay, a harrowing ride that Wolfe punctuates with “SMACK” every eighth word — after about two paragraphs of that you’ll feel like you’re on the boat. Nestor, a young Miami police officer of Cuban descent, performs a very public act of heroism which not only goes unrewarded but causes problems for him with his family and nearly every sub-group in southern Florida. His heroics also score zero points with the love of his life, the beautiful nurse Magdalena, who is distracted by her wealthy psychiatrist employer whose specialty is treating porn addicts                

Nestor finds himself in the middle of Miami’s racial politics, starting with the Cuban-American mayor and the black chief of police. He gets swept up in an art fraud with a young journalist who shares only one trait with his wimpy WASP editor; they both went to Yale. The young journalist, who meets Nestor while covering his act of heroism for the Miami Herald, is just about the only person in town who respects the young cop.                   

No socioeconomic or ethnic group is safe in this classic Wolfe tale which pits cultures and classes against each other: Cubans, Haitians, Yale graduates, the Russian mob, police, politicians, blacks, whores and the Art Basel crowd. We can only hope that Wolfe doesn’t have any axes to grind with Des Moines. CV

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