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"The shadowy missions, the secret fundings, the conspiracies beneath conspiracies, the deniable support by parts of the U.S. government and active discouragement by other parts--all these things have fostered a tensely paranoid style in parts of our own political life, Didion suggests.
Miami is us, and the tangled tales we heard recently of private armies and retired generals fighting their own lucrative wars provide something of a retrospective support for a thesis developed long before the Iran-gate hearings."
- LA Times Review by Richard Eder
The brilliance of this book is Didion's ability to capture the swampyness of the politics of Miami and South Florida, or what Christopher Lehmann-Haupt described as Miami's "murky underwater darkness full of sharks and evil shadows," and use that as a lense into the US policies in Cuba (during the Kennedy years) and Central America (during the Reagan years). The swampy feel, however, was both a plus (atmosphere) and a negative (narrative-flow). This book reminds me of the feeling I got when reading Delillo's Libra or Mailer's Oswald's Tale
This book is a dark, wet narrative of paranoia, government conspiracies, and a nation and city that has lost control of its dark arts. It is still relevant and the paranoia is still rich. I was reading this book and the character of Jack Wheeler sounded interesting. I remember he had been a figure in Rick Atkinson's [book:The Long Gray Line. He advised President Reagan and Both President Bushes on Central America. So, I decided to look him up since, like Zelig, he also played an interesting part in Didion's book. 23 years after Didion's 'Miami' was published and 4 years before I read it, Jack Wheeler was killed while conducting a review of the legal authority to engage in nation-state offensive cyberwarfare. His body was seen by a landfill worker "falling onto a trash heap in the Cherry Island Landfill". Sounds like it could have happened in Miami.
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After living in Miami for decades, I decided to read this 1987 book as a flashback because there is now a controversy over whether the East Little Havana district should be preserved or paved over with exclusive condos. I had read two other books by Joan Didion that were extremely engaging. And recently, this book received praise in the Miami New Times (alternative newspaper) as a pretty good depiction of one slice of the city's history.
I was disappointed. I think the book has not stood the test of time. It is just not very interesting for today's reader, especially as it moves into the later chapters that sketch Didion's meetings and observations regarding various local figures. Too many details and names that add up to a lot of unanswered questions and dead ends. It seems to be mostly accurate but, as the New Times review said, Didion did not get everything right. Example of error: implying that the Black Grove, a historic Bahamian settlement, was a collection of public housing units. Didion smelled linkage between Miami Cubans and the Kennedy assassination and other national events but, by her own admission, never really got a handle on what was happening.
The narrator Jennifer Van Dyck has a fine reading voice but made dozens of distracting mispronunciations in English and Spanish.