Savages, Don Winslow



Cover of "Savages: A Novel"

Cover of Savages: A Novel

Author: Don Winslow

First Edition: Simon & Schuster, 2010

Original language: English



Savages follows a few days in the life of Ben, Chon (formerly John), and O (short for Ophelia).  Selling the best stuff on the market, Ben and Chon are the Kings of Southern California marihuana.

Ben is peaceful and idealistic, using the money he makes selling dope to help starving Third World children and building schools and hospitals in poverty- stricken corners of the world.  He is anti-violence and always remains calm.  Chon is Ben’s polar opposite, an Iraq war vet, and the muscle of their operation.   O, the spoiled daughter of the stereotypical rich California trophy wife who will not admit the passage of time, is their unconventional girlfriend.

Naturally when the members of Mexico’s Baja Cartel come asking to take over their business, their reaction is completely opposite.  Ben wants to run and Chon wants to fight.  Realizing, however, that they will never outgun the Baja Cartel, Chon agrees and they decide to run.  However, the Baja Cartel is not about to let them off that easily…


“If you let people believe that you’re weak, sooner or later you’re going to have to kill them.”

“Lomotil tablets, the chemical cork, as any Third World Sojourner knows.”

“’S’up?’ Spin asks, because he thinks talking like a surfer who’s been hit in the head too many times will make him not forty-three.”

“because at the end of the day you really can’t feel someone else’s pain, you can only imagine it.”

“’Do something that you love for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”

“hornier than a convent.”


I really loved this book- it was like Chuck Palahniuk meets a narco-corrido.  So why did I only give it three stars?  The incorrect Spanish.  It was really annoying how many of the Spanish words and slang were used incorrectly- and it really disappointed me because I loved the story, loved the way it was told- I read it in two sittings- but could not get past the mistakes, which kept coming.

I hate to be nit-picky, but once a notice an author’s mistake, two things happen: (1) I inevitably lose respect for both author and editor, and (2) my inner editor goes on the hunt for more mistakes and “bugs me” while I’m trying to enjoy the book.

So what were the mistakes?  Lets start with the word putana, used heavily throughout.  Now I am not Mexican; I am Colombian (but we’re all the same, right?) but I have never heard a Mexican, or Colombian or any other Latino use the word putana.  We all use the word puta, some of us quite often, but never putana.  I have heard quite a few Italians use putana, however- but there were no Italians in the book.

Moving on, Lado’s wife’s name is “Delores,” and both Lado and Delores were born in Mexico.  Now most women in Latin America with that name spell it Dolores, which means “sorrows,” short for La Virgen María de los Dolores, “Virgin Mary of Sorrows.”  In Spanish, Delores with an “e” means nothing and I don’t know any real Latin woman named Delores instead of Dolores.  I do realize, however, that Delores is a very popular American name even though it does not mean anything in Spanish.   It reminds me of the name Consuelo.  In Spanish, Consuelo is a woman’s name, despite ending in “o,” and it means “consolation.”  However, I have met a few women in the US with the name Consuela, with an “a” who tell me their name is Spanish.  I don’t have the heart to tell them that their name is a mistake in translation.

Ok, I’m not going to keep going (animale, el Federación), but a quick read-through by any Latino may have been useful.  Especially since I assume the novel was written in California.  I mean, how hard can it be to find a Latino in California, or anywhere else in the US for that matter, to take a look at your manuscript?   I’m just saying…

However, beyond that, I really loved the book, the story and the characters.

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