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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

A novel that should have been a documentary: Prayers for the Stolen

Book group tonight will take on Jennifer (?) Clements's Prayers for the Stolen, a book about the horrors and devastation rained on Mexico because of the drug cartels - a devastation that we could probably eliminate if we were to legalize possession of marijuana. We're not there yet, and this novel gives a harrowing account of the effect of drug wars on the lives of ordinary Mexicans. Specifically, it focuses on a young woman, named Ladydi (not exactly after the princess but as she explains it in opposition to Charles's mis-treatment of his wife - if you can buy that) living in a small town in the Guerrero province about an hour's drive from Acapulco. The novel is divided into 3 parts, and the first is by far the best and most significant: in this section we see life in the village, almost surreal as the mothers go to extraordinary lengths to protect their daughters from drug lords who steal young women and enslave them. Ladydi tells of her own narrow escape from captivity, the capture of the most beautiful girl in the village who later returns as a ruined being, and the sudden and nearly inexplicable disappearance of others from the village. It's a powerful portrait of village under seige and of the terrors and poverty, the alcoholism, the violence - all very believable and harrowing. The novel becomes less convincing and more wayward as we follow Ladydi to the house of wealthy drug dealers in Acapulco where she lives for a time, has a loving relationship with the gardener - himself on the run from the police - and eventually gets arrested when another villager says she was present during the assassination of a drug dealer and his daughter (this part really strains credibility, as it's impossible to believe a powerful drug lord could be killed on his own property by a lone gunman who drives up to the house). Part 3 - which I'm still re-reading - takes place in a Mexico City prison after Ladydi's arrest, and gives a general sense of the culture that develops among the women prisoners - who seem to bond in sisterhood, not what we would have expected. I was not at all surprised to learn that this novel developed from research and interviews Clements conducted w/ Mexican women touched by the drug trade, some or most of them prisoners. Unfortunately, I think this material is more suited for a documentary or a nonfiction article or book - some great material here that for its potency depends on our belief in its accuracy. I do believe most of it - but the plot such as it is feels jerry-rigged and the narrator and protagonist is more or less just a window that opens onto these events: we know a lot of facts about her, but we don't or at least I don't feel deeply about her, either, and the slightly upbeat ending, as I recall it, doesn't ring true. Not sure why Clements wouldn't or couldn't let the women speak for themselves instead of clothing her material in the veil of literary fiction.

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