As the blurb says, this is "a true story of friendship, cocaine, and South America's strangest jail". I normally don't get excited about non-fiction, but what I read in this book is bizarre and captivating beyond belief. In the late 90s, Rusty Young went backpacking in South America. He visited the prison of San Pedro in La Paz, Bolivia, and there he met Thomas McFadden, whose life story he recorded and published in this book. 'Marching Powder' is about a country where bribery is a way of life, a place where cocaine is cheaper than beer, and about a prison where you have to buy your own cell. Most of the book is in first-person from Thomas's perspective, and even though I've never met the guy, after reading the book I feel like I've known him all my life. This book is a faithful account of real life in a third world prison, and as such I found parts of it nauseatingly cruel and violent, although most of the time it's just plain hilarious that anywhere could be as corrupt as San Pedro. And like Rusty, pretty much all my preconceptions of life in prison went out the window as I discovered Thomas's story. Best book I've read in ages.
Note: As well as reading 'Marching Powder', I highly recommend the documentary about San Pedro, with Rusty in it, that aired on ABC TV's 'Foreign Correspondent' in late 2003.
Author: Rusty Young
Year published: 2003
Filed in: Crime