A History of Violence
Óscar Martínez

NON FICTION | 2016 | 288 pages

El Salvador and Honduras have had the highest homicide rates in the world over the past ten years, with Guatemala close behind. Every day more than 1,000 people—men, women, and children—flee these three countries for North America. Óscar Martínez, author of The Beast, named one of the best books of the year by the EconomistMother Jones, and the Financial Times, fleshes out these stark figures with true stories, producing a jarringly beautiful and immersive account of life in deadly locations.

Martínez travels to Nicaraguan fishing towns, southern Mexican brothels where Central American women are trafficked, isolated Guatemalan jungle villages, and crime-ridden Salvadoran slums. With his precise and empathetic reporting, he explores the underbelly of these troubled places. He goes undercover to drink with narcos, accompanies police patrols, rides in trafficking boats and hides out with a gang informer. The result is an unforgettable portrait of a region of fear and a subtle analysis of the North American roots and reach of the crisis, helping to explain why this history of violence should matter to all of us.



Martínez’s credentials for writing about this ignored human tide are impeccable: his first book, The Beast, drew on eight trips clinging to the roof of the infamous migrants’ train through Mexico, chronicling their desperation in grippingly graphic detail. His new book, A History of Violence, takes a step back to explore what the migrants heading to the US are running away from … the unflinching cameos it paints offer a chilling portrait of corruption, unimaginable brutality and impunity.
— Financial Times
Reading Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez’s nonfiction portrait of violence in Central America, it seems fantastically lucky for all of us that he’s still alive…The reporting is an act of courage; the book is a plea for comprehension of the terror that drives people from Central America to the United States…Martínez’s portrait of Central America as killing field is a plea not only for comprehension of immigrants’ race for the border but also for empathy
— Nancy Nusser, Texas Observer
Martínez dives into the underworld of his subjects, navigating barrios that police won’t enter, spending days and nights with gang members. His methods resemble war reporting and his prose is cinematic … The collection’s strength lies in his ability to write the hell out of his material. Like Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family, it skimps on statistics and analysis, instead relying on description alone to create a world that captures the reader and doesn’t let her go. One of the stories, ‘El Niño Hollywood’s Death Foretold,’ evokes Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Like the beloved Colombian writer, Martínez pens scenes that are suspenseful, moving, and vivid.
— Sarah Esther Maslin, The New Republic
In Spanish, the tradition of the crónica is in-depth testimonial reportage blended with personal essay, and Martínez is a worthy inheritor. Martínez’s work conveys an intimate knowledge of the social and criminal ecosystem—both macro-level context and telling minutiae. But because he isn’t afraid to follow dangerous paths, the result are jewels with moments of intense emotion presented against a historical background that contemplates military, social, economic, religious, psychological and all sorts of other factors…I am in awe of Martínez’s commanding style.
— Ilan Stavans, In These Times
[A History of Violence] dives deep to the problems driving the region’s violence and impunity...if ‘The Beast’ was a look at the dangers of the journey, ‘A History of Violence’ focuses on why people take it to begin with.
— Jared Goyette, PRI's The World
No place is dangerous enough to quell Martínez’s hunger for the truth, as the intrepid newshound sniffs around in occupied prisons, grim police stations, hellish whorehouses, desolate crack dens, isolated ranches and battered barrios, all the locales omitted from the tourism brochures. To understand how corruption operates in Central America, Martínez goes to where it operates…gritty journalism.
— Hector Luis Alamo, Latino Rebels
Agonizing stories…[Martínez] urges readers to understand what Central Americans are going through and what compels them to seek refuge in the United States.
— Ramón Rentería, El Paso Times
Martínez draws readers into this complex narrative by alternating between a panoramic social sweep and the beleaguered lives of civilians, victims, gang members, and cops, capturing the multilayered nature of a place whose indigenous traditions are being brutalized by modern criminals who commit murder casually...Smart, angry immersive journalism from an author who warrants wider readership on this side of the border.
— Kirkus Reviews
Martínez tenaciously reports piece by piece on the accretion of gang-related violence besetting El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala…Martínez’s reporting reveals shocking failures of the state—particularly of police and courts—but he avoids tidy lessons, preferring to let the intractable issues stand in all their cold brutality.
— Publisher's Weekly
Ripped from the headlines, these are powerful stories of Central America’s chaotic and bloody present, sure to raise awareness among a broad audience of North Americans, whom Martínez refuses to let off the hook. ‘The solution?’ he asks. ‘It’s up to you.
— Library Journal
A haunting portrait of a tragic, complicated part of the world.
— Shelf Awareness
Martínez’ latest book chronicles the underbelly of some of the world’s most dangerous places…[An] immersive account.
— Nancy Flores, Austin-American Statesman
Martínez is a gifted storyteller with an astute, observant eye and a voice that beckons to be followed…A History of Violence is a necessary read, especially for US government officials crafting immigration policy against migrants and refugees from the region. It sheds light on why so many are braving the treacherous trek through Mexico to reach the United States.
— Sara Campos, Los Angeles Review of Books
As the current wave of US Immigration and Customs raids authorised by President Obama deports Latino migrants, and Donald Trump boosts his election campaign with promises to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, Martinez endeavours to explain why, for many Central Americans of the northern triangle, returning home is a death sentence.
— Independent
If you take just one book to Central America on holiday, don’t pick this one. Oscar Martinez has written a punishing account of the lives of the poor in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Melding acuity and anger, he unveils the scary realities of organised crime... Mr Martinez deserves credit for bringing it so effectively to life.
— The Economist

El Niño de Hollywood
A History of Violence
The Beast