This searing novel about three Latinos lost north of the border is not for the faint of heart ... As Jesús, both victim and monster, slips into drugs, sexual abuse, psychosis, incest and necrophilia, Paz Soldán perfectly modulates the tension, evincing our sympathy even as we recoil ... Less interesting is the novel’s third strand, involving a graphic novelist trapped in an abusive affair with a drug-addled literature professor ... With unflinching realism and steely grace, Norte reminds us why literature can do what journalism cannot: We inhabit the minds of people we’d prefer to forget.
Soldán astutely links the lives of these full-blooded people throughout the full-color world of Norte ... Soldán maneuvers easily between the minds of these characters, himself crossing borders into different psyches and varying states of sanity to illustrate how traumatic displacement can be. The language often flourishes even when the scene is most solemn ... the visuals are so torturous they should require trigger warnings. Nearly every one of Jesús’s crimes is graphically described from start to finish ... Its characters experience internal struggles that arise from movement and place, but their struggles are what make them more than mere characters on a page.
As Paz Soldán’s spare narration focuses on his character’s grotesque violence, the descriptions are profoundly unnerving and, for this reader, pass into the gratuitous. Perhaps some restraint might better lead the reader to understand Jesús’ cultural and class desperation ... While Michelle’s search for relationships and direction as a Bolivian-American is intriguing, Paz Soldán’s characterization of her intellectual journey unfortunately sometimes verges on a self-indulgent enjoyment of her intellectual ruminations ... Edmundo Paz Soldán has written a riveting and gritty story of Hispanic immigrants. Through Norte, a story of crime and punishment, poverty and class, cultural and familial grief, the author has given us very different voices, each with a distinct and compelling rhythm and cultural ecology.