to the official website of Mark Arax, the award-winning journalist and author whose books on California have been compared to the “great social portraits” by William Saroyan and Joan Didion. Whether in the pages of a newspaper, magazine or book, Mark is considered one of the finest journalists of his generation. His most recent book, “West of the West,” comes out in paperback in the Spring of 2011.
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West of the West - Dreamers, Believers, Builders, And Killers In The Golden State

-Mark Arax

Teddy Roosevelt once exclaimed, “When I am in California, I am not in the West. I am west of the West,” and in this book, Mark Arax spends four years travelling up and down the Golden State to explore its singular place in the world. This is California beyond the clichés. This is California as only a native son, deep in the dust, could draw it. Compelling, lyrical and ominous, his collection finds a different drama rising out of each confounding landscape. Arax combines journalism, essay and memoir to capture social upheaval as well as the sense of being rooted in a community. Piece by piece, the stories become a whole, a stunning panorama of California, and America, in a new century.

Praise for West of the West

“By turns lucid, harrowing, and comical, this collection of dispatches paints a darkly impressionistic portrait of modern California. A journalist and native son, Arax puts paid to vestigial West Coast clichés and replaces them with ominous realities and discontents encountered during four years of intrastate travel. Migrants, exiles, dreamers, schemers, murderers, hippies, fundamentalists, conspiracists, environmentalists—all share space in these pages and in that vast Golden State. The possibility of crazy-quilt discursion looms high, but Arax calmly sews the diverse stories and dramatic studies into coherence and poignancy. The effortless mix here—memoir and reportage, psychography and geography—coolly achieves the author’s aim: ‘to find the truth and the lie of the California myth.’”—The Atlantic

“These swift, penetrating essays from former Los Angeles Times writer Arax (In My Father’s Name) take the measure of  contemporary California with a sure and supple hand, consciously but deservedly taking its place alongside Didion’s and Saroyan’s great social portraits. Expect the unexpected from Arax’s reports up and
down the state: on the last of the Okies, the latest migrants from Mexico, the treesitters of Berkeley, Bay Area conspiracy theorists, an Armenian chicken giant’s infamous fall or the mammoth marijuana economy of Humboldt County, among much else. For Arax, a third-generation Californian of Armenian heritage who spent years covering the Central Valley as an investigative reporter, the state’s outré reputation and self-representation are a complex dance of myth and memory that includes his own family lore and personal history. It’s partly this personal connection, running subtly but consistently throughout, that pushes the collection past mere reportage to a high literary enterprise that beautifully integrates the private and idiosyncratic with the sweep of great historical forces.”
– Publisher’s Weekly. Starred Review

 “Arax is the perfect cicerone through the heavenly and hellish landscapes and historical evolutions he has chosen to chronicle. . . . He knows how to write colorfully. . . . The tales are never hurried but unfolded in a measured, controlled manner for maximum context and texture. And he has come up with some doozies! Haunting.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Arax gives us ‘intimate dramas’ shaped by the intense subtleties of his writing. . . . He goes at events with the fierce bulldog tenacity that is one of his trademarks as a writer. . . . charged and highly moving stuff.”
Los Angeles Times

“The many strengths of West of the West include solid reporting, taut writing and an author who has a firm grasp on his subject. Arax’s California isn’t about beaches or Hollywood or Disneyland. It’s about a mix of real people who live there, mostly not in the limelight. You can trust that when Arax writes about this subject, he knows what he’s talking about.”—Las Vegas Review Journal

“Pick up a copy of West of the West and absorb it. It’s a delight to read.”—Huntington News

“Mark Arax is a great reporter. He knows where the action is, and the remarkable level of detail he captures tells us he’s as tenacious and unrelenting as the most hard-boiled noir detective. . . . Arax successfully evades the tropes about California being the land of either dreams or nightmares. Instead, his essays paint an impressionistic landscape of a land of frustration.”—Washington Post 

“In West of the West, Arax demonstrates the same uncanny ability to get closer to his subjects than you would ever think possible. These are compelling, sometimes heart-rending, eminently readable stories.”
Contra Costa Times

“Native son Mark Arax travels the state side-to-side, end-to-end to gather its stories, writing about the ‘real’ California lost in the gloss of tourism teasers.”—Sacramento Bee

"Arax is drawn to stories of mysterious loss, and he tells them so beautifully that his writing rises above the often tragic subject matter, lending mythic value to little-known lives." --OCMetro

"West of the West is immediate in the best ways, sometimes intemperate, but always interesting."
-- Minneapolis StarTribune

"Wherever he goes, Arax takes a remarkably crafted personal prose vision. His essays are gorgeously written, poignant and funny." -- Bookotron.com

“Mark Arax has achieved something truly wonderful. He shows us a California we don’t know or haven’t yet heard about: Post 9/11 racism and craziness in the Central Valley; dunderhead FBI agents prowling the land; the plight of immigrants as it really pans out; marijuana moguls dealing in stacks of cash that stinks of weed; the disgraceful decline of the once-great LA Times—all of it set in the larger frame of a generation of Armenian immigrants tied to the old country, in love with the new country, struggling to discover the meaning of life with all their might.”
—Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life

“A lucid, warts-and-all portrait of California by a native son. . . . [W]orthy of a place alongside the works of . . . Carey McWilliams and even Joan Didion.”—Kirkus

West of the West is a dreamscape as much as a landscape—and heart-stirring in its style and acute perception. It could be titled ‘Why We Live Here Anyway’—I exhort you to read this book.”
—James Ellroy, author of The Black Dahlia and the forthcoming Blood’s a Rover

“Arax dug deep into the dirt of California, and he didn’t come away with his hands clean.”
San Diego Union Tribune

 

In My Father's Name

- Mark Arax

The true story of the author’s return to his Central California hometown to investigate his father’s unsolved 1972 murder. Pocket Books. Now in paperback. “Almost every American town harbors some brutal secret, but few produce writers like Mark Arax with both the courage and artistic talent needed to coax the story out and shape it into fine literature,” says Peter H. King of the Los Angeles Times. “Of course, Arax had an extra incentive: the footsteps he followed ran straight through his own family, straight through his own heart.” Read other reviews.

Reviews

“On January 2, 1972, two men walked into a Fresno, California, nightclub and shot the owner, Ara Arax, to death. Although it was one of the most sensational murders ever to take place in the area, the crime was never solved. In this riveting account of the event, Arax’s son Mark, who was 15 years old at the time and is now an investigative reporter at the Los Angeles Times, attempts (20 years later) to solve the crime that destroyed his childhood. As he painstakingly interviews witnesses, regulars at the bar, friends, family members, and members of the local police force, he rekindles memories of his father that make the quest to find the killers almost too painful to bear. Arax persists, however, and eventually he is able to pin down the killers, finding that his father (who at the time of his death had been desperately seeking an audience with local law enforcement officials) was silenced by the local organized crime network. This narrative of his father’s life and death (and his own pervasive sorrow and longing) is both electrifying in its intensity and heartbreaking in its raw emotion.” -- Booklist

“A vivid memorial to the incidental victims of a homicide. It reminds us how brutally an unsolved mystery can deform an entire family and change its fate.” -- The New York Times

“Extravagant in its detail ... Arax has reached far beyond the murder of his father, Ara, to deliver a complex parable of family, heritage, revenge and civic corruption.” -- The Portland Oregonian

“A helluva book” -- The Boston Globe

“Reads like a richly layered novel.” -- The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Arax is charged, emotional, driven ... in the course of In My Father’s Name, Mark Arax does more than vindicate his father. He also makes peace, and, in doing so, liberates himself.” -- The Washington Post

From Mike Pogosian, Fresno State University

On the night of February 22, 1996, at St. Paul Armenian Church, there was a gathering. The gathering was for Mark Arax and the signing of his book, In My Father’s Name a Family, a Town, a Murder. When you walked into the hall there was an overwhelming feeling. There was warmth, community, and most of all pride. It was a time to gather and recognize one of our own who had succeeded in accomplishing his dream. Also it was a homecoming for Arax from a long journey.

All around me, I only heard comments of how well the book was written or how much someone had enjoyed reading the book. You can imagine how happy we were when Arax himself read portions of his book to the audience. Remembering that the book is based on his family history, and not a fictional account, this is the story of the struggles and tragedies that his family has faced throughout their lives. He began with his grandfather’s journey to America and read portions up to his father’s death in Fresno. I was drawn in by his narrative and emotionally bound by the events one family went through.

There were parts that Mark Arax read that made us laugh and parts that were deeply sad. The event was not simply to gather and listen to a reading or seek an author’s signature. It was an evening of remembrance for many. Numerous people were friends and family who associated with the reading because they were there. Certainly the reading stirred up memories that were long forgotten. Both joyous and melancholy, reflections of the not so distant past left its impression on all. It is a profound moment when so many can be touched so deeply at one time. Mark Arax’s book and presence defined that moment.

Although I didn’t know him personally, I was truly affected by his experience and the tragedy that directed his personal journey. Without hesitation I recommend In My Father’s Name a Family, a Town, a Murder, not only as a history of Fresno but as a gripping account of the search for truth.

 

The King of California: JG Boswell and the Making of A Secret American Empire

- Mark Arax & Rick Wartzman

The King of California is a rich, colorful history of California centering on the untold story of America 's biggest farmer, J.G. Boswell, who controls more than $1 billion worth of water rights and real estate in the heart of the state.

Over the past fifty years, Boswell has built a secret empire while thumbing his nose at nature, politicians, labor unions and every journalist who ever tried to lift the veil on the ultimate "factory in the fields." Now eighty years old, with an almost pathological bent toward privacy, Boswell has spent the past few years confiding one of the great stories of the American West to Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman. The King of California is the previously untold account of how a Georgia slave-owning family migrated to California in the early 1920s, drained one of America 's biggest lakes in an act of incredible hubris and carved out the richest cotton empire in the world. Indeed, the sophistication of Boswell 's agricultural operation--from lab to field to gin--is unrivaled anywhere.

Much more than a business story, this is a sweeping social history that details the saga of cotton growers who were chased from the South by the boll weevil and brought their black farmhands to California. It is a gripping read with cameos by a cast of famous characters, from Cecil B. DeMille to Cesar Chavez.

Reviews

"Passionate, fair-minded, thought-provoking and groundbreaking...Thoroughly moving, deeply rendered and utterly trustworthy." -- Los Angeles Times

"With obstinate bravura, [Arax and Wartzman] rip down curtains that have veiled this valley...For scope and readability, these guys shine." -- The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 2, 2003.

"A landmark and improbably entertaining book" -- The San Francisco Chronicle

"A meticulous narrative of the rise of the cotton magnate James G. Boswell..." -- The New Yorker, November 10, 2003.

"A remarkably detailed and eye-opening portrait" -- The Washington Post

"An alluring and fascinating account... a rollicking tale..." -- Raleigh News and Observer, January 11, 2004

"Fascinating...Arax and Wartzman are talented writers." -- National Public Radio's "Day to Day"

"Intelligently fair-minded" -- The Economist

"An outstanding book ... Arax and Wartzman leave us an appreciation of Boswell despite his considerable warts."
-- California Lawyer

This meticulous narrative of the rise of the cotton magnate James G. Boswell begins in the nineteen-twenties, when his family was driven from Georgia by boll-weevil infestations and brought its plantation ways to California's San Joaquin Valley. Not to be defeated by nature again, the Boswells leveed and dammed Tulare Lake, the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, to the point of extinction. In its six-hundred-square-mile basin they grew cotton, while in Los Angeles office towers they built one of the country's largest agricultural operations, swallowing small farms and multimillion-dollar subsidies with equal vigor. Arax and Wartzman strive for evenhandedness but acknowledge the costs of Big Ag—such as evaporation ponds with selenium levels so high that ducks are born with corkscrewed beaks and no eyes, and the recurrent "hundred-year floods," stubborn attempts by the old lake to reassert itself. -- Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

You may never have heard of him, but J. G. Boswell controls the biggest farming empire in America. In the early part of the twentieth century, his family moved from Georgia to California, where they drained one of the country's biggest lakes, Tulare Lake, and planted cotton. Soon their cotton empire became the richest and most technologically sophisticated on the planet. This book is many stories, all rolled into one epic. It's the story of the Boswells from the 1800s to the present day; of cotton farming in America; of California itself; and of the evolution of race relations as the country dragged itself out of the era of slavery and, not at all smoothly, into the modern era. Written in a lively style that matches the bigger-than-life qualities of its subject, the book is far more exciting than you might think the story of a cotton farmer would be. With proper marketing, it could smash through genre barriers and become the Seabiscuit of agricultural biography! - David Pitt, Booklist

Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.