Friday, August 29, 2014

"Prayers for the Stolen," by Jennifer Clement

“Prayers for the Stolen” is a novel about innocence being violated with impunity, because it is innocence, and it is good, and it is weak.

If you are in the habit of shrugging off sanguinary stories of Mexican mass murder as the woes of people who probably got involved with things they should not have, Jennifer Clement's narrative will cure you of that habit.

“Prayers for the Stolen” depicts the lives of a dozen or so women, living on a hill in the jungles outside Acapulco, who are bereft of men and very vulnerable.

Says narrator Ladydi of the place where most of the yarn unwinds, “I thought of our angry piece of land that once held a real community, but was ruined by the criminal world of drug traffickers and the immigration to the United States. Our angry piece of land was a broken constellation and each little home was ash.”

The immigration is responsible for all the men leaving and never coming back, the drug traffickers are responsible for the “stealing” of pretty girls, without fathers to protect them, as merchandise in the sex trade.

That's the set up. Newborn baby girls are announced as boys, and little ladies are disguised as little men to throw off the drug lords' dragnets. When that no longer works, mothers strain to make the adolescent females ugly by blacking out their teeth and short-cropping their hair.

The girls and their mothers have dug deep holes on the mountainside. Their ears are attuned to the most distant rumbling of SUVs (the Narco's vehicle of choice), which triggers a run for the holes where the daughters will hide.

It's not much of a defense and the women are exposed to the most vicious kind of predators. Going any further along the narrative arc would be to drop spoilers, but it does not give too much away to say the story is also about the dissolution of traditional communities and the displacement of indigenous peoples in Mexico.

Says Ladydi of one acquaintance made along the way:

[Luna] was a small, dark brown Mayan Indian from Guatemala with straight black hair. I was a medium-sized, dark brown mix of Spanish and Aztec blood from Guerrero, Mexico, with frizzy, curly hair, which proved I also had some African slave blood. We were just two pages from the continent's history books. You could tear us out and roll us into a ball and throw us in the trash.”

Which is pretty much how their rights and plights are handled.

Clement keeps it simple, clean, yet colorful, and tells an engaging story that gives a human face to the femme fatalities in Mexico's war with its own dark soul and that of its neighbor to the North.

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