How do you explain Arizona? Nancy Hicks Marshall tackles the intricacies and politics of Arizona legislation, immigration rights and civil liberties in her new novel, A Dry Hate (Odio Seco). Based in modern day Phoenix, this fictional account brings us closer to understanding the layered narratives that illustrate the struggle of immigration reform at the border. Her experience as a lawyer in the court system, as well as her work with the ACLU and mediation, gives us a key to understanding the climate Arizonans face in the world of activism, and the conflicts of "enforcing the law".
Ivan Wilder is the focal character, a professor at Arizona State University, who has been tapped to teach a course covering power, law and modern propaganda. Combining law and journalism students, sponsored by the Cronkite School of Journalism, Wilder sets off to fill his new 2010 summer course "Propaganda and Power" with relevant speakers. He designs the curriculum to educate his class on how to discern the ways in which propaganda is created, disseminated and perpetuated. Along the way, as various high profile figures on both sides of the SB 1070 controversy are brought in to the classroom, his career sets upon a collision course with the sheriff's department. As the summer heats up, and the classroom discussions get even hotter, police corruption intersects with legal corruption and land squarely in the middle of his classroom- and his life. Ivan finds himself a new target in the ever growing dossier of political enemies of the sheriff.
Told through the perspective of many of the students, the activists, the lawyers- and the deputies themselves- Marshall's story weaves back and forth between the summer of 2010- when the creation of SB 1070 ignited the national discussion on civil rights- and the years that led up to it. She gives us a rich history of Arizona, and a detailed description of the land, the people, and the climate that have forged the creation of the 48th state's unique perspective. With a light touch, she brings in the cultural and political strokes that highlight each character without creating stereotypes. The dialogues are plausible, the relationships are realistic, and the people we meet are as real as the guy next to us in line at Starbuck's.
Whether you are a student of law, or not, you will appreciate the manner in which Ms. Marshall advances the storyline through discussion of the U.S Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you weren't clear on the laws, or why they were created, you can come away from reading this with a better appreciation for the framing of our constitution- as well as the challenge in interpreting vs upholding the law. If you were not certain of the implications of SB 1070, you will be able to see its legal, political and personal manifestations. Each character- professor, student, officer, lawyer- learns and changes from his or her experience in the classroom, the court room, and the county jail. The diversity of opinion expressed is remarkable- and the discussions that arise in this fictional classroom make you wish you could have taken this class yourself. The broader implications upon human rights, and the existence of democracy, are well heeded.
I know Ms. Marshall well (she also blogs here at OS under the name Gardenia Jasmin), and know much of the Phoenix she describes. Although the characters in the book are fictional, they are inspired by very real events- and real court cases- that helped create such realistic story arcs. Her characters are relatable because they could be any number of my neighbors, classmates, coworkers, patients, students, colleagues and friends I have met in my last 12 plus years in Phoenix. I have "known" these people because there are real people here who do stand up for justice, who do devote their passion to speaking out, helping others, making their voices heard in honor of civil rights, human rights, and democracy. Some of these real people have been unjustly arrested as the abuse of power continues in our controversial state.
I encourage you to read this book- and share it with your family members- who may be interested in the ongoing debate about SB 1070, immigration reform and civil rights. While the issue in the US primarily targets hispanic populations, it is clear that there are bigger implications in the war on terror and the war on drugs. This book makes us question our own beliefs about citizenship and democracy.
If you would like to purchase a copy, you may go to her website, Nancy Hicks Marshall Books , or find it at Amazon.