Prayers for the Stolen – a captivating and poetic story

Realstar’s guest blogger Robert Schenck has reviewed the book A prayer for the stolen (2015) about young women in Mexico who live under constant threat of violence, and to be forced into the terrible sex trade. ”Do read this well-written and educative novel but brace yourself for some painful reading.”  Schenck writes.

Prayers for the Stolen is not only a novel about trafficking, even if its title, its most prominent theme, and its author’s primary motivation suggest that it is: “I couldn’t get the image out of my head. I was haunted by it for days,” says Jennifer Clement on Radiokorrespondenterna, (SR P1 150614). She was speaking of the prepared holes in the ground where young girls were hidden as the SUVs approached with the dealers hunting down their trafficking victims – daughters of mothers long-forgotten by their husbands who had perilously emigrated to the United States for lives as illegal immigrants, never to return to their families in native Mexico.

More than about trafficking, this is a novel about the overall plight of countless women and children in Mexico, the victims of unfathomable violence, oppression, discrimination, addiction, herbicides, desertion, exploitation, abuse and more. This incomprehensible, unyielding and multi-facetted misery is what fuels Clement’s captivating and poetic story and style. However, at times, it seems as if the author, in her sincere desire to inform the world of the horrors of her home country, includes so many of the horrific aspects of modern Mexican society, that these didactic purposes limit her artistic and literary capabilities. There is no problem with the authenticity of the novel, though; Clement is immersed in Mexican society and topography, and has gone to enormous lengths to assure that every character and event, though not “real”, does reflect Mexican life as it exists today.

Do read this well-written and educative novel but brace yourself for some painful reading. It traces the early teenage years of Ladydi Garcia Martínez, from her godforsaken home village and mountain (a bit inland from Acapulco in the state of Guerrero) through innumerable hardships and lastly to her encounters with fellow jail mates in the infamous women’s prison of Mexico City. The nation’s widespread human trafficking is put in an important context; it is very clear that trafficking flourishes in this extremely dysfunctional environment. It feeds on a society steeping in poverty, corruption, gangs, deprivation, violence, addiction, drugs, criminality, weapons, kidnappings and poisons. The young women growing up in Guerrero live in constant fear and have no future. Ladydi and her friends are all robbed of their youth and become victims at an early age.

Truth is stranger than fiction. This novel is fiction, but it’s true, just south of the US border.

Mexican army helicopters are sent out to drop herbicides to destroy the poppy fields of the drug lords. Instead, they poison the village women and daughters, and most probably the next generation. But a deformed daughter can count her blessings; she is at no risk of being kidnapped since the traffickers are out to get the “pretty” ones…..

“We all knew the sound of the army helicopters approaching from far away. We also knew the smell of Paraquat mixed with the scent of papaya and apples.

My mother said, Those crooks are paid, paid by the drug traffickers, not to drop that damn Paraquat on the poppies and so they drop it wherever else on the mountain, on us!

We also knew that the poppy growers strung wires above the crops in order to down the helicopters or, in some cases, simply shot them down with their rifles and AK-47s. Those army helicopters had to go back to their bases and report that they had dropped the herbicide so they dropped it anywhere they could. They did not want to get near the fields where they would be shot down for sure. When the helicopters came by and got rid of the stuff over our houses we could smell the ammonia scent in everything and our eyes burned for days. My mother said this was the reason she could never stop coughing.

My body, she said, is the army’s damn poppy field.”


Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

Vintage Books, London, 2014

You can buy it here!

(also available in Swedish as En bön för de stulna translated by Niclas Hval, Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2015)