Monday, Aug. 17, 2009
By Lev Grossman
Imperial By William T. Vollmann; Viking; 1,306 pages
Like a map with a scale of 1:1, Imperial is practically the size of the territory it describes: Imperial County, in southwestern California, right on the Mexican border. It's a bizarre book, but then, Imperial is a bizarre place. Home to such oddities as Slab City and the Salton Sea, it's an arid region caught in a cycle of convulsive agricultural booms and busts driven by massive irrigation projects and abetted by copious supplies of undocumented immigrant labor. A combination history book, documentary, autobiography and topographical survey, Imperial is Vollmann's obsessive, strangely engrossing attempt to articulate the whole twisted truth of this scrap of cursed earth, where every square foot is soaked in blood and money and despair. It doesn't come easily. "This is a secret, secret place," an Imperial resident tells Vollmann. "In a way, it's like the Nam. Just like the old guys don't make friends with the new guys--because most of 'em won't make it--here in the Imperial Valley you've got to ride out two summers before you're in." Imperial is about as close to "in" as most of us are ever likely to get.
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http://www.time.com/time/magazine/artic ... 88,00.html