Mile Zero, Thomas Sanchez’s sweeping vision of Key West, Florida, brilliantly evokes the rich history and lyrical passion of the island. Key West is the southernmost point of the continental United States, where “Mile Zero,” the last highway sign before the Atlantic Ocean, symbolizes the end of the American road. While Key West represents the end for the downtrodden Americans who gravitate there, the island promises hope for refugees fleeing Haiti’s poverty across shark-ridden waters. Sanchez traces the island’s shifting economy from a hub of the cigar industry to “a marijuana republic,” then to “a mere cocaine principality.” Sanchez laments how the drug trade has corrupted the American Dream.
Mile Zero’s main character, St. Cloud, a former antiwar activist, drowns his self-doubt in Haitian rum and ponders his inability to sacrifice himself for his beliefs. He feels a strange kinship with MK, once a soldier in Vietnam and now a dangerous smuggler who has fled Key West for South America. MK’s mysterious presence and the shadow of Vietnam permeate the book. St. Cloud imagines that his pacificism and MK’s violence are two sides of the same coin. After Vietnam, returning soldiers and protesters both found themselves cast out of society.
When a Coast Guard cutter tows a refugee boat from Haiti into the harbor, Justo Tamarindo, a Cuban American police officer, drafts St. Cloud to help him prevent the...
(The entire section is 429 words.)