This novel has everything you need. You knew it just from looking at the cover. You knew it from the title.
Yes, Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias is one of those books.
Complex characters? Check. Dark magic realism? Check. Scathing commentaries on border politics and contemporary society? Check. Fully bilingual brutality and grit like you’ve never ever seen before? Check.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the genesis of “barrio noir,” and you’re gonna want to get in on it.
Zero Saints is the story of Fernando, a smalltime “enforcer and drug dealer” in Austin, Texas, who winds up eyeball-deep in shit after some real-deal Mara Salvatrucha gangsters decide that he and his associate Nestor are an inconvenience to their own retail endeavors.
Well, Nestor is cut up and fed to…something by the gang’s sociopathic leader. Fernando is left reeling, stuck between a rock and a hard place. He's forced to continue his dealings to get by, risking a fate similar to that of his friend. (He’s also got the hots for a fairly straitlaced neighbor-lady, which further complicates things.) Good options are a luxury that Fernando cannot afford. So, with the help of an ancient death saint, a handful of seedy business associates, a few dark mystics, and some expert-level prescription pain-pill abuse, he attempts to overcome the odds and save himself from a most grisly demise at the hands of the Salvatrucha.
In addition to all this insanity, I really respect that Iglesias wasn’t afraid to get overtly political at times with this story. His commentaries are as rock-solid as the book’s narrative and gritty aesthetics. Zero Saints is a full-fledged literary punch to the gut. It's a fist of beautiful words clad in filthy, rusted brass knuckles.
In regard to the novel’s bilingual prose, some readers out there seem concerned. I admit that I'm biased on this matter. I’m fluent in both English and Spanish (I spent a few years doing activist journalism in Mexico and Central America). That said, I don’t think the book will pose any major problems to all you English-only readers. If anything, you’ll pick up some useful slang and profanity in Spanish. Just give it a shot, güey.
I loved Zero Saints. Not only can I say that it's the best book I’ve read this year, it’s also been added to my list of Favorite Things.
Yes, whether Gabino Iglesias likes it or not, his novel now occupies a space in my mind alongside Videodrome, The Locust’s Plague Soundscapes, northern flying squirrels, Hieronymous Bosch paintings, and pizza.
And if you don’t like that, Gabino, well, you’re just gonna have to hunt me down, saw me into pieces, and feed me to…something.
However, know that I too have a Russian friend.
Yeah, okay, I don't.
Here’s an excerpt from Zero Saints para ustedes.
For real though, just go buy the fuckin’ book. This shit’s gonna burrow into your brain like an electric worm.