[Herbert] takes on the dishonesties and self-deceptions that can keep the politics of an entire country rotten all the way down ... The book is both vivid and enthusiastically researched, examining each piece of available evidence to establish what must have happened at every stage and how it was obscured, then and later. Herbert re-creates the history of Torreón and its Chinese community, how they thrived and who saw them as an economic threat. (He favors all kinds of local color; the book’s title, rather brilliantly, is the nickname of the soccer team’s home stadium.) Here and there, he’ll allow his research to slip into empathic identifications ... Or he’ll offer a passing flash of self-revelation, just enough to place himself within the society he’s describing.
... a history lesson, a personal travelogue, a journalist’s notebook, and a disquisition on the nature of violence and the meaning of community ... the author proves an engaging, earthy tour guide whose seeming digressions into both past and present serve to underpin our understanding and illuminate his analysis of events ... For U.S. readers not steeped in history lessons of the Mexican Revolution, Herbert offers multiple guideposts...The chronology in the back of the book is both helpful and revealing.
... a masterful combination of archival research and prose elegance ... Herbert's book is a triumph: an eloquent testament not only to the hundreds of Chinese who were tragically slaughtered during those three days, but also a passionate, remarkable intellectual study in the psychology of racism. His research is complemented by a literary style which at times assumes near poetic qualities ... Significantly, Herbert does not contain his study to the experience of the single generation of Chinese who lived and died in the slaughter. His book offers equal balance to Mexican and Chinese history alike, and explores the historical and intellectual developments in China which spurred mass migration to the Americas, as well as the rich political debates which flourished within the expatriate community. As a result, the Chinese protagonists in The House of the Pain of Others come alive not merely as victims but as active agents in the construction of the Mexican nation ... Just as significant is what Herbert's book says about the role of elite discourse in creating and maintaining spaces and opportunities for racist violence ... not for readers who want simple, straightforward reporting. It's a more complex, yet ultimately more rewarding journey; Herbert's stylistic literary technique and Christina MacSweeney's masterful translation provide an intellectually provocative study that unfolds with elegant, narrative grace. The result is a brilliant, breakthrough study which reminds us that the lessons of history are essential to learn and re-learn, if we are to steer our troubled present toward a more hopeful future.
... after the buildup (and garbled metaphors), what Herbert trundles out is fairly straightforward: a dense, detailed narrative of the massacre — although not without a few flourishes ... It’s the unearthed American connection to the massacre that is Herbert’s most interesting contribution ... The great strength of Herbert’s book, written with such shame and fury, is that it is not framed as epitaph but as dispatch from a live crime scene, attentive to the silences, the still seething resentments, relinquishing nothing to history.
The book’s center—the aforementioned massacre—is not discussed in any great detail until page 157. Before that, The House of the Pain of Others engages in lots of digressions, side comments, and biographical sketches of the major participants in the massacre ... often meandering ... can be difficult to follow at times. A slew of names are bandied about, and often Herbert jumps from topic to topic with nary a trance of narrative cohesion. This book does not market itself as a standard history, but at times its creative nonfiction borders on being asinine ... tells an excellent story about an event that Mexico and Torreon have done a good job of forgetting ... an exploration of how racial resentment can simmer for a long time before breaking out into open bloodletting.
... proves that truth does not come from a mere recitation of facts, but from the messy byways of memory and other more unexpected sources ... partially about how the past haunts the present, especially if the root issues go unaddressed. The book is about Mexico, and Torreón, but its lessons are not limited to those localities. Herbert claims that 'this is not the story you were expecting,' but in many ways it is achingly familiar.
If The House of the Pain of Others is a work of history, then, it’s a self-aware one, more crónica than objective report. The narrative is filtered through Herbert’s distinct sensibility, one that reveals how stories of the past are actually written—subjectively, provisionally, influenced by the sheer randomness of experience. After the book’s early sections, the bulk of the remainder is an exhaustive and heavily researched retelling of the events leading up to the massacre ... Herbert gives us his view on the events, but doesn’t insist that it is necessarily the correct one. He always refers the reader back to the original sources ... Through the stories in em>The House of the Pain of Others, the genocide begins to seem inevitable, the result of an unholy alliance between a fiercely chauvinistic culture, a thriving foreign population, and a violent revolutionary uprising ... Can Herbert’s story of a 'small genocide' stand in for an entire nation? It would take another book to really make that case. For the present volume, rewriting history—or writing something close to the truth for the first time—is more than enough.
Some sections about the intricacies of local and international politics—and long block quotations from others’ accounts of the slaughter—will require patience from readers, but the stories of the preludes to the violence, and of the horrors themselves, are simultaneously gripping and depressing. Murder, post-mortem brutality, the blood of children running in the streets, and xenophobia out of control: These and other aspects of the narrative will simultaneously propel readers through the pages and frequently disgust them ... The strengths of Herbert’s writing are patent throughout: his vast, comprehensive research; his often elegant phrases and sentences his empathy; and his determination to be accurate and fair.