Last week I attended an exciting talk by the journalist David Lida, who for over twenty years has documented everyday life in Mexico, particularly Mexico City, in ways few other writers are able to do (because Lida has both great compassion and serious nerve). During the event, Lida read from the manuscript of a semi-autobiographical novel, and an episode he recounted nicely illuminates an issue I’ll be examining centrally on Worlds of Law.
In addition to his career as a writer, Lida has an unusual side job. He works as a “mitigation specialist” for attorneys representing Mexicans in the United States who are facing the death penalty. What this means, in essence, is that he unearths the back-story of people who have been accused or convicted of capital murder to help persuade courts to show them leniency—if a sentence of life without the possibility of parole be can called lenient. In practice, the job requires Lida to travel to humble, sometimes dangerous places and persuade strangers to reveal intimate details about other people’s lives: about their friends, parishioners, cousins, brothers, and sons. He then stitches those fading snapshots together into a narrative for American defense lawyers.
It is work that requires moral and physical bravery, a surplus of “negative capability,” and a skilled pen. Read the rest of this entry »