EMPIRE OF HUMILIATION by James Jens Brusseau

Book Quote:

“This final act will not only be one of history’s memorable museum thefts—and is not everything I do fit to historical measures?—it will also prove the most abject of my humiliations.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Claudia Real (MAY 14, 2009)

As a Latin American woman I read Empire of Humiliation hoping for a novel that I could relate to, and I wasn’t disappointed. I loved the descriptions of Mexico DF which made me feel like I was back there again. I mean the description of dinner plates at outdoor restaurants getting so coated by the oily air pollution that you can write on them with your finger, that’s exactly how terrible it is. So for anyone who wants a look at nitty-gritty Mexico, at least the cities, this fulfills. Maybe it’s one of those things where because the author is a foreigner living in Mexico, he actually sees and feels some parts better than we do who have lived there since we were young.

The main story is exciting and it’s going to be easy to get for anyone who knows about life outside the “States.” What really drives people crazy, and it drives me crazy too, is how we outsiders who were born in other countries complain about America but constantly find ourselves dressing that way and listening to the music and everything. It’s pretty brilliant in the book how that feeling gets hit and converted into a whole plot. Talk about pushing the buttons!

The plot turns out to be complicated in the end, and it’s definitely going to make some people mad, but it starts out as a simple story. Anderson and Marina are Americans who get set up as the culprits for a string of theater-like murders down in Mexico City. Their picture appears in the local newspapers and the entire affair becomes a kind of media sensation. Actually it’s kind of a sensation of outrage with Americans killing Mexicans and all the nationalistic-type anger people feel about this abuse. Obviously Anderson and Marina need to find out what’s going on, fast, before they get caught. But that’s just the beginning. From there things get more original as it turns out that each of the main characters has their own agenda, their own way of using this international violence and tension.

On the subject of character development, it is a little thin. You definitely get the idea that you’re supposed to fill in the blanks about who these people are. I would even say that except for the three main characters, everyone else comes through a bit like cardboard, like they’re just there to support the story. On the other hand this is a thriller kind of novel, so really they are just there to support the story.

The last point concerns the final chapters. This was one of the more surprising endings that I’ve read. For one thing, there’s a switch in the writing style from some anonymous storyteller telling you what is happening, to Anderson talking straight at the reader. It’s a great device and it really worked because the entire meaning of all that happened up until then also gets turned completely inside out, like a sock. You’re left wanting to go back and read it from the start to see how this hidden and different story gets built underneath the apparently main plot. (hint: The understory involves a museum robbery in Mexico, and is based on fact, by the way.)

Conclusion. For anyone wanting to read a book with an international setting and themes and background, and especially Mexico, this is a top grade thriller. It makes you think (or maybe get mad) about what’s going on in the world, and it makes you want to keep turning the pages.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: Overflow (August 1, 2008)
REVIEWER: Claudia Real
AMAZON PAGE: Empire of Humilation
AUTHOR WEBSITE: James Jens Brusseau
EXTRAS: Read the excerpt from the Amazon page.
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: If you like this… try:

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

The Uncomfortable Dead by Paco Ignacio Taibo

Night of the Radishes by Sandra Benitez


May 14, 2009 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Debut Novel, Facing History, Latin American/Caribbean, Mexico, Unique Narrative, World Lit

One Response

  1. MFadmin - May 29, 2009

    Claudia, after reading your review, I decide to download a copy EMPIRE OF HUMILIATION to my Kindle.

    From the start I liked the novel, it is just different enough to be refreshing. And now that I’ve finished it, I totally agree with your enthusiasm. What a smart thriller! Why is it that we learn history without asking the important questions, such as, how did Hernan Cortez conquer the Americas when he was outnumbered 15,000 to 1, never mind all the normal pitfalls? This brilliant plot, which could only be set in Mexico, (and what a trip to Mexico this is for all us armchair tourists) answers this question; and wrapped up in the answer is a question that I’ve been asking myself for 8 years: Why was the Bush/Cheney administration so hell bent on making sure everyone in the world hated Americans? So Claudia, thank you for bringing this book to our attention… I look forward to more of your recommendations.

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