BOOK REVIEW: Cocaine Coast by Nacho Carretero

Cocaine Coast: A Luis Bustos Graphic NovelCocaine Coast: A Luis Bustos Graphic Novel by Nacho Carretero Page

Out: September 28, 2021

This is a graphic novelization of a journalistic account of smuggling in Galicia, a jagged coastal region of rocky inlets to the north of Portugal. This region’s entrance into smuggling began not with illicit drugs, but rather with cigarettes that were bootlegged to evade taxation. However, it wasn’t long before it was discovered that this supply chain could be exploited for illegal drugs, notably Columbian cocaine. The Columbian cartels would become a major player in the region and Galicia would become the single biggest entry point for cocaine into Europe.

This mix of graphic novel and journalism is a bit strange, but it does have its advantages. For example, maps and drawings of the coast offer a sense of how geography played into smuggling operations. The art combines a gritty style optimal to the narco- world, but with some beautiful layouts. And, the art does a good job of conveying the changing time periods, as this book covers decades of activity.

I found the book intriguing, with many insights into the hidden world of narcotics smuggling in a location that is famed for its natural beauty. There is a prose appendix that is also compelling. It discusses the response to the book (by criminals, police, and the general public, alike) and what impact that response had (and / or didn’t have) on smuggling in the region. If you’re curious about the business of narcotics trafficking, you’ll likely find this an interesting read.

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BOOK REVIEW: Outlandish by Nick Hunt

Outlandish: Walking Europe's Unlikely LandscapesOutlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes by Nick Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

There are many beautiful and wonderous sights that come to mind when one thinks of Europe: forests, meadows, alpine vistas, or cities of stunning architecture. However, there are other sights that one wouldn’t expect at all: tundra, jungle, desert, or steppe, but those are the unexpected destinations that Hunt takes his reader. In some cases, a destination under discussion doesn’t meet the technical definitions for said ecosystem, but they’re the closest that Europe has to offer, and that’s enough to make them outlandish.

The book takes the reader on a tour of four uncharacteristic ecosystems of Europe: Cairngorms arctic tundra in northern Scotland, Poland’s “jungle” – the forest primeval of Bialowieza, Spain’s Tabernas desert, and the Hungarian Puszta (i.e. the Pannonian Steppe.) For each of these places, the reader is treated not only to vivid description of the locale and its flora and fauna, but also some fascinating folklore, cultural peculiarities, and indigenous mysteries. In Scotland, this involves inexplicable reindeer and the legend of the Big Grey Man. In Poland and Belarus, we learn about legendary forest folk deities and about the last Soviet standing. In Spain, one gets a lesson in Spaghetti Westerns. In Hungary we see birders, neo-Nazis, and Central Asian immigrants all traipsing the same ground.

I found this book to be an engaging read. It helps raise consciousness about climate change without collapsing into a gloomy doom-fest. This discussion is most notable in the most extreme ecosystems, Cairngorms and Tabernas, but most of the intense discussion is saved for a brief epilogue entitled “The Last Snow.” The book offers rudimentary maps, but relies entirely on text to paint a picture, but I felt the author did a great job of bringing the places to life through words.

If you’re interested in learning more about a few of the globe’s lesser-known natural settings, I’d highly recommend this book.

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