California, what makes this state so wonderful? Well if you were to ask any one east from it they might say it’s a party state filled with surfers and celebrities; where no is poor and everyone drinks wine. However, if you were to pick up Mark Arax’s book West of the West you would find the contrary. Arax goes beyond the clichés that California is known for and shows you, well, what is beyond just the west. Showing the true nature of California and its people, if you are one to think that California is a happy go’ lucky state then this would be the book to read to see the real California.
In the book Arax explores the diversity of people and the agriculture of the central valley, for instance in the chapter “The Last Valley” Arax falls upon the Lam family whom he befriends and grows a close relationship with Tai Lam who falls short of his families expectations. He then goes into writing and following up on the farming industry throughout the central valley. Following the theme of agriculture we meet Hilario an immigrant grape field worker and his family, in the chapter “The Summer of the Death of Hilario Guzman.” This chapter talks about the conditions and pay of an immigrant field worker, how many have died and suffered just trying to support their families and what they go through to give them a better life in America.
Next Arax venture’s into northern California, here he explorer’s the marijuana production that supplies most of California both medically and recreationally; and economically supports Humboldt County. He compares the differences between the modern industrial weed grower who is looking to make millions and the post 80’s hippies who view marijuana as a sacred element from nature. Another chapter focusing on the produce production of the valley is “The Great Microbe Hunt” which concentrates on the purge of the E. coli bacteria.
Reverting back to the diversity of people in the chapter “The Agent” we are introduced to FBI agent James Wedick Jr. who decides to fight and testify for a Pakistan father and son who are being accused of being terrorists linked to Al Qaeda. Then we have “Legend of Zankou” a chapter about Mardiros Iskenderian who opened a chain of rotisserie chicken restaurants. With cancer running through his body he makes the unfortunate decision to kill his mother, sister and then himself leaving his son to pick up the pieces. Arax then proceeds to talk about his own family in “Confessions of an Armenian Moonshiner” and about how they would spend days making raki. Next we have the “Last Okie of Lamont” where Arax interviews Earl who tells him his story about what it’s like being an Okie and the deaths of those around him making him the last one.
Finally we have the last three chapters; first we have “Eyre of the Storm” where Arax covers the bay area involving San Francisco and Berkeley. In this chapter he covers events like Naked Day held in Berkeley and the Gay Pride held in San Francisco. Secondly we have...