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Book Review: 'Hella Nation' by Evan Wright

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

HELLA NATION

Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar

By Evan Wright

Penguin. 338 pp. $25.95

There's nothing Evan Wright loves more than infiltrating marginal subcultures, but, please, spare him the Hunter S. Thompson comparisons. Gonzo journalism consists of "writing that is more about the reporter than the subject," explains Wright, author of the bestseller "Generation Kill," whereas his intent "has always been to focus on my subjects in all of their imperfect glory."

Imperfection is the norm in "Hella Nation," a bleak country populated with alcoholic professional skateboarders, Internet-porn scam artists and homeless teen anarchists. Jerry Springer fans will enjoy Wright's gloomy profiles of damned, damnable "lost tribes," but others will be seduced by Wright's muscular prose. "Nazi colors are raised . . . [for] the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives setting off bombs in synagogues, burning crosses in people's yards, and assaulting strangers in the street," he writes in a chapter called "Heil Hitler, America!" It's refreshing to read first-person journalism by an unorthodox P.T. Barnum who refuses to put himself at the center of a three-ring circus.

-- Justin Moyer


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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