3 out of 4 stars
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Gringo by Dan "Tito" Davis, chronicles thirteen years of the author's life as an international fugitive. The book starts with clearly painted pictures of his humble beginnings and family life in South Dakota. Even as a child, he always had a hunger for a more stable and comfortable life. He started doing small part-time jobs at the age of eleven but the incomes were never sufficient. He was smart and hardworking and kept thinking of ways to make more money. When he got to college, he realized how dependent young people were on performance-enhancing substances, that may or may not be illegal. Dan wanted to make money but never illegally. He learned of the most popular substance in demand in his college campus, white crosses, and did research on it, only to find out that back then, it was only assumed to be illegal because of its form and appearance but technically it wasn't. He used this misconception to his advantage and started dealing it to students on the campus.
As he got involved deeper, he became a known dealer in several places, he made some friends and together, they started making their own stuff. He did make a lot of money out of it but the more he earned, the lesser it seemed to him. He then began dealing in marijuana but was ratted out by a colleague under a false charge of cocaine dealing. But since the timing was against him, cocaine explained his luxury and the authorities wanted to close the case. Things weren't looking up for Davis. Finding no other option at his expense, he fled the country. The book documents all his adventures across Latin America, his escapades in a few other countries and dangerous parts of the world with the help of his fake documents and some hilarious accounts of how he nearly missed trouble each time.
This book was one fantastic ride. The subtitle of the book is My Life on the Edge as an International Fugitive . The minute I read that and the short description of the book, I wanted to read it immediately. In my experience, stories of people with criminal records are so insightful and interesting and this book did not let me down at all. Not only do you get to read about Davis constantly juggling between trying to save himself from either the authorities or Mexican high-profile criminals, but you also get to enjoy vivid imageries of very different and diverse cultures in elaborate details. Of course, one may learn about different cultures through travel blogs/vlogs but a fugitive is obviously not strolling around with a camera in hand, fake passport in pocket, in tourist spots.
Davis was trying his best to not seem suspicious even to the locals, who by default did not take a liking to white people they mockingly referred to as Gringos , and keeping a very low profile. He tried so hard to blend in, despite his poor Spanish, that he ended up seeing and experiencing things he'd never have experienced by choice and also things that any country wouldn't want the world to know about itself. He even meets a few local people who are amazed at the kind of places Davis had been able to visit, which even the locals were too intimidated by.
As a fugitive, Davis's experiences may materialistically have been different but the narration has a very relatable approach so that the reader doesn't feel completely alienated and feels a strange camaraderie, building with him. All the tough times teach him the value of family and home. In the very beginning of his life on the run, he had set down some ground rules for himself that he felt was necessary to survive the fugitive life. However, several times in the story, he recounts how his lack of thought or his overwhelming emotions, made him break those rules and land him in trouble. As I already mentioned earlier, these parts in the story are hilarious. One thing that I'd keep cracking up over is how he called himself Gringo Stupido every time he messed up. He must have used that phrase about twenty times throughout the book but it never got old or felt over-used. If you see that phrase, you know it's going to get good!
The book was so interesting to me, that even after I'd finished reading it, I looked up the writer to know more about what his life is like now, and found his website, where there is a small section promoting this book. I read this funny line in the description of the book; "while Davis's exploits were stunning, there was only one problem - he wasn't a writer." This reminded me about a foreword before the story starts, by the actual writer, Peter Conti, who wrote the book in Davis's voice because apparently Davis had handed Conti a manuscript of over a thousand pages that was precariously scribbled down (Dan was finally caught by the FBI and wrote the book while serving his sentence in jail), and while Conti found several interesting bits in it, there was no continuum/flow and the whole thing together, made absolutely no sense. Conti and Davis sat together for a year, diligently drafting and redrafting the book again and again until they came up with this masterpiece. I'd like to commend Conti for this work and his efforts as well.
One may get confused several times in the story because there are so many characters, but being by oneself in a foreign country with a foreign language, constantly having to look over their shoulder and never knowing who to trust, I guess it's a given there would be so many characters. Some of these characters are huge criminals and Davis made sure to tell us about their interesting stories in a few brief paragraphs as well.
I would have given this book a solid four but there are quite a few grammatical/editing errors here and there, that although minor, others may find annoying. So I give this book three out of four. This book exceeded my expectations and I would recommend everyone to read this book, especially readers of autobiographies and travel books. It might probably seem more enjoyable to travelers.
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