Trump’s immigration rhetoric is more subtle than his opponents realise

To say Donald Trump ‘double-downed’ last night on his border rhetoric would be an understatement. He went full anti-illegal immigration throttle, and then some. ‘There will be no amnesty,’ he said, and he promised to deport criminal illegal aliens within one hour of his arrival in office. ‘We will build a great wall along the southern border,’ he said. ‘And Mexico will pay for the wall, 100 per cent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it.’ He also invited on to the stage a group of women whose children have been killed by illegal immigrants, the ‘Angel Moms’ — a typical, mawkish Trumpian touch. ‘If you don’t vote Trump,

Grubby, funny shaggy dog story

The Mexican author Juan Pablo Villa-lobos’s first short novel, Down the Rabbit Hole (Fiesta en la madriguera), was published in English in 2011. It was narrated by the young son of a drug baron living in a luxurious, if heavily guarded palace, whose everyday familiarity with hitmen, prostitutes and assorted methods of disposing of unwanted corpses was both hilarious and unsettling. The novella was the first work of translated fiction to be shortlisted for the (now sadly defunct) Guardian First Book Award and was described admiringly by the writer Ali Smith as ‘funny, convincing, appalling’. Villalobos’s new novel, his third, has again been translated by Rosalind Harvey, whose work on

Desperate liaison

Six years ago, the Canadian author Clancy Martin made a splash with his autobiographical novel How to Sell, based on the hard-drinking years he spent as a jewellery salesman before going to college and beginning the brilliant academic career he currently enjoys as a philosopher. Now he has come up with a weird, densely focused novella about an adulterous affair being pursued by an alcoholic female writer, who is the one doing the narrating. It’s beside the point to wonder if this too is autobiographical. In his acknowledgements, Martin thanks the people who ‘together convinced me to rewrite what began as a memoir into fiction’. As ever, there is incidental

A choice of crime novels | 30 June 2016

Pascal Garnier’s novella Too Close to the Edge (Gallic, £7.99, translated by Emily Boyce) deals with the boredom of middle age and how passion and violence can take on the guise of salvation. Éliette has moved to the French countryside following her husband’s death. She seeks an ‘atom of madness to stop herself sliding into reason’, and finds it in the form of Étienne, a man who helps her when her car breaks down. She invites him into her lonely home, and her life. When her neighbour’s son is killed in a road accident, it becomes obvious that her new lover is linked to this tragedy in some way, and

There may be trouble ahead | 21 April 2016

Jane Got a Gun is being sold as a rousing feminist Western although the truth is that it’s about as rousing and feminist as my cat, Daphne, who is 17, and now barely moves but who, back in the day, made herself available to every passing Tom. So you don’t look at Daphne and think ‘rousing feminist’, just as you don’t come away from this film and think ‘rousing feminism’ — assuming you are minded to think anything at all, and haven’t just been bored to death. Produced by Natalie Portman, who also stars, the film has had its troubles. The interesting art-house auteur Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk

Poverty + anarchy + drug dollars = Mexico

You may not have heard of the Maras. Or Barrio 18. Or the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or the Zatas, or the Knights Templar, or the Shower Posse. But you should have heard about them, says Ioan Grillo in his new book about transnational drug and crime gangs, because any one of them may have played a profitable and blood-drenched role in bringing you not only your weekend baggie of recreational powder, but also the gold in your earring, the lime in your gin and tonic, the avocado in your salad and even the steel in your Volvo. These ‘gangster warlords’ are the new century’s international mafias. They originate in

One holy mess

This novel, John Irving’s 14th, took the sheen off my Christmas, and here are the reasons.   The comments on the back of the book (‘Irving is the wisest, most anguished and funniest novelist of his generation’ — Chicago Sun Times) made me feel lonely. He might have been wise, anguished and funny in The World According to Garp, 33 years ago. But never once in these 458 pages did I laugh, sympathise, or glean an ounce of wisdom. Instead, I lost confidence that reading novels could ever be a pleasure.   Take the main character, Juan Diego, a ‘dump kid’ growing up on one of the vast rubbish dumps

The murderous gangs who run the world

Rosalio Reta was 13 years old when recruited by a Mexican drug cartel. He was given a loyalty test — shoot dead a man tied to a chair — then moved into a nice house in Texas. Soon he was earning $500 a week for stakeouts and odd jobs, but the big money came from slitting the throats of the gang’s enemies, which paid a $50,000 bonus. Four years later he was arrested after 20 murders; his only remorse was over accidentally sparking a massacre that left him fearing his bosses might exact revenge on him. Such bloodstained stories of obscene violence in pursuit of obscene wealth fill the pages

Mexican wave

Tours that start in Mexico have a nasty habit of repeating on one. Of all the British groups touring in the United States at the moment, we were the only one to launch our efforts there. But the upshot is that, two weeks later and safely in New York, I am still directing a sea of unnaturally white faces. I am often asked what happens when someone falls ill on stage. The answer is that they leave it, while trying to give the impression that this is all part of the evening’s entertainment. The resulting sense of unease can be felt by everyone in the room, but is perhaps worst

James Bond

For fans of the franchise who remain unconvinced by Daniel Craig’s time on her majesty’s secret service, the stories leaking from the production of the latest film Spectre are further evidence that the time has come to hand 007 a glass of scotch and a revolver. Craig’s Bond always had less of an air of an expense-account gentleman spy and more the demeanour of a spornosexual plumber. This is a Bond who’d sooner take photographs of his abs in the bathroom mirror than go bird-watching. Stumbling after the surefooted remake of Casino Royale, there is no disguising the tedious drivel that was Quantum of Solace, nor that Skyfall borrowed heavily

What’s to become of Pedro Friedeberg’s letters?

The year 2015 has been designated one of Anglo-Mexican amity, with celebrations planned in both countries by both governments. But it looks as though one name will be missing from the list: Pedro Friedeberg’s. ‘Who?’ you may ask. Well, in 1982 I was in Mexico City to interview Gabriel García Márquez after he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At a party given by a Mexican art-collector, I noticed several zany pictures on the wall. ‘They’re all by Pedro Friedeberg, my favourite Mexican artist,’ said the collector. I stared at one large framed square after another, at pictures in which the Old World and the New seemed conjoined in a

A mad menage — and menagerie – in Mexico: the life of Leonora Carrington in fictional form

Leonora Carrington is one of those jack-in-the-boxes who languish forgotten in the cultural toy cupboard and then pop up every few years to a small flurry of excitement. Born in 1917, the child of a rich Lancastrian industrialist, she ran away to Paris to paint and there became the lover of Max Ernst. She lived at the heart of the Surrealist group, fleeing war-torn Europe with a gaggle of artists to sail to New York, where she kept company with Peggy Guggenheim, Dalí, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp et al. Raven-haired and chain-smoking, she spent time in a Spanish lunatic asylum, married a Mexican, painted and wrote. There were lovers, a

The Etonian peer who became an assistant to a Mexican commie

The lefty hereditary peer has few equals as a figure of fun, in life or literature. The late Tony Benn comes inevitably to mind here, as does the Earl of Warminster — ‘Erry’ — in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. As his name would suggest, Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet ‘Jack’ Hastings, the 16th Earl of Huntingdon, emerged into the world bedecked with promisingly absurd trappings. And for a time it looked as if his life would follow a predictably conventional path. But then everything changed. After some routine torturing by his nanny — she branded him with an iron — he went to Eton. There,

In the empire stakes, the Anglo-Saxons were for long Spain’s inferiors

‘Every schoolboy knows who imprisoned Montezuma and who strangled Atahualpa.’ Macaulay, anticipating Gove, was complaining that the schoolboys by contrast did not get enough about Clive and the British conquest of India. Hugh Thomas, in this and in the two previous volumes of his trilogy on the Spanish empire, presumes that we have all forgotten about Montezuma and Atahualpa, and argues that we do not appreciate Spain’s imperial achievements. He is probably right, and he sets one off to speculate why. Take Philip II himself. He was musical, owning ‘ten clavicords, thirteen vihuelas, and sixteen bagpipes’. He had a library of 14,000 books, which we would consider more to his

World Cup diary: now we know how utterly shite England were

I’ve been cheering for the Dutch as a sort of thank-you for them humiliating Spain. But there was something thoroughly unpleasant about the way they dispatched Mexico, the world’s great footballing under-achievers. The fairly horrible, if undoubtedly talented, Arjen Robben dived for the penalty which won the game. It may have been a foul, of a sort – although I don’t think so, and mere contact should never be enough to warrant a foul – but whatever, the bald Dutchman dived, and should have been booked. Previously, toothless Uruguay had deservedly lost to Colombia: we are beginning to understand just how utterly shite England were, no? England bottom of a

Forget the MINTs, the next economic success story will be in the BALLS

Jim O’Neill, the Mancunian former chief economist of Goldman Sachs in London, commands attention whenever he speaks and has a claim to fame as the coiner in 2001 of the acronym ‘Bric’ for the four rapidly developing countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China — to which economic power looked set to shift during the early part of the new century. Undeterred by the hindsight view that he should have gone for ‘Bic’, like the throwaway razor, because Russia has lagged so dismally behind the others on almost every measure of progress, O’Neill has now come up with ‘Mint’, for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, as the next cohort of economic

Bye-bye Bric, hello Mint — are Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey really the new boom economies?  

New year new ideas as we woke up on Monday morning to find ourselves in Lagos with Evan Davies trying to convince us that Nigeria really is undergoing an economic earthquake. It’s part of a week-long campaign by Radio 4 to make us believe that the next economic leaders among world nations will be Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey. These new Mint countries are destined, we are told, to take over from the Bric countries, now deemed passé after just a decade in the limelight generated by the economist fashionistas. It’s stimulating stuff for this hibernating time of year. Bulletins and programmes high on optimism and imbued with the belief that

The many attempts to assassinate Trotsky

Leon Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban Volkov, is a retired chemist in his early eighties. I met him not long ago in the house in Mexico City where his grandfather was murdered in 1940 with an ice-pick. Volkov had grown up in that house surrounded by 20-foot garden walls and watchtowers with slits in them for machine-guns. The protection was no defence against Trotsky’s eventual assassin, the Spanish-born Stalinist Ramón Mercader, who very ably infiltrated Trotsky’s Mexico circle and, on 20 August, struck the revolutionary on the front of his head with that gruesome weapon. Trotsky bellowed in pain but managed to fend off his assailant before collapsing. His bodyguards hurried in

Italo Calvino’s essays, Collection of Sand, is a brainy delight

The Japanese are sometimes said to suffer from ‘outsider person shock’ (gaijin shokku) when travelling abroad. Recently in London we had a lodger from Hiroshima who wanted to practise his karate routines in our back garden. Concerned to see him chopping at our apple tree in full combat gear, a metropolitan police helicopter hovered in close to take a look. Afterwards Mr Kinoto admitted to me that he was lost in London amid alien signs and habits. ‘The object of my time in England is not sightseeing’, he told me ruefully, ‘but home-staying.’ I thought of the Japanese lodger while reading Italo Calvino’s wonderful essays, Collection of Sand, published in

Narcoland, by Anabel Hernandez – review

It is by now surely beyond doubt that those governments committed to fighting the war on drugs — and on paper that’s all of them — face a total rout. To understand the scale of the defeat, all you need to know is that Barack Obama and David Cameron have both been unable to deny that they were once users. The US spends more than a billion dollars a year on international narcotics control and as a result, as a US official in Colombia once told me, has forced up the price of a gram of cocaine in New York by just a few dollars. That must have put drugs