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Prayers for the Stolen Hardcover – February 11, 2014
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On Writing Prayers for the Stolen
In Mexico today women are stolen off the street or taken from their houses at gunpoint. Some women never return home from their work place, a party or from walking to the corner. They are all young and poor and pretty.
I have spent over ten years listening to women affected by Mexico’s violence as I was interested in writing about women in Mexico’s drug culture. This was a logical step for me after having written the novel A True Story Based on Lies, which is about the mistreatment of servants in Mexico. I interviewed the girlfriends, wives and daughters of drug traffickers and quickly came to realize that Mexico is a warren of hidden women. They hide in places that look like supermarkets or grocery stores on the outside, but that are really hiding places with false façades; in the basements of convents, where women live with their children and have not seen daylight for years; and in privately-owned hotels that are rented by the government -- a surreal, Third World concept of a Witness Protection Program.
In rural Mexico, the poorest families dig holes in their cornfields. This is how they hide their women from traffickers. It is as if they planted their daughters in the earth so they would not be stolen.
At Mexico City’s Santa Martha Acatitla Prison for women, I have listened to prisoners who have been deeply touched or have actively participated in the violence that Mexico is experiencing today. My conversations with assassins, drug dealers, women who claim to be innocent, and with famous criminals exposed cruel and tender lives. In that prison of rough, bare cement walls, I looked at drawings of shells, sand and blue fish drawn by a seventy-year-old woman who had sold fish tacos on a beach before she was forced by drug traffickers to carry drugs across the Mexican border into the United States. She told me that she liked to steal the prison’s saltshakers and rub salt on her skin so she would not forget the sea.
After listening to the women in hiding and the women in jail, as well as the women who have been victims of crime, the primary story for me became Mexico’s missing women and children.
For years I had heard or read: she disappeared; she never came back; today she would be celebrating her sixteenth birthday; I am praying for a sign; she went missing; some men came for her; if I go to the police they laugh at me; she was just walking, just walking down the street; she never called back; she never called; I can see her walk through the door; that man knows where my daughter is; he took some other girls; I feel she’s still alive; somebody sent someone for my daughter; someone sent somebody for my daughter.
Although there are no exact statistics, the number of women trafficked in Mexico is very high. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. (Note this estimate does not include those trafficked within national borders.) Most people who are stolen and sold are subjected to sex trafficking or other forms of modern slavery: forced labor, debt...
A woman can be sold to different owners many times, and even dozens of times a day as a prostitute, while a plastic bag of drugs can be sold once.
Prayers for the Stolen is a novel about Ladydi Garcia Martínez. She is part of a community, like so many in rural Mexico, that has been decimated by drug traffickers, government agricultural policies and illegal immigration. Her home is a village near the once glamorous port of Acapulco. Her story, although inspired by truth, is fiction.
*Starred Review* In Clement’s powerful new novel, Ladydi Garcia Martinez tells the story of how she grew up in a remote Mexican mountain village disguised as a boy. This was to ensure that the marauding gangs of drug dealers believed that the village was populated solely by adult women and young boys. No men and absolutely no pretty young girls. It’s a survival strategy that works only marginally well. When it doesn’t work, well, it’s bad. It seems as if these thugs are always lurking, always hovering over villages, always ready to kidnap young, lovely girls. Ironically, it is the lure of this gang life or the flimsy promise of making it in the U.S. that has induced the men of Ladydi’s village to leave. And so her History Channel–educated mother does the best she can with whatever meager means are available to raise and protect her daughter in this tenuous, matriarchal culture. It is her mother’s pliable morality that defines her character and in a paradoxical way arms Ladydi to survive in modern Mexico. Clement’s deft first-person narrative style imbues authenticity to her depiction of a world turned upside down by drug cartels, police corruption, and American exploitation. --Donna Chavez
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Top Customer Reviews
Prayers for the Stolen is a hard read, but an absolutely brilliant read. By hard, I don’t mean turgid prose or endless, unnecessary detail. It’s a hard read in that the lives of all the characters are unrelentingly hard, but the reader so quickly becomes attached to these characters that after the first few pages one is absolutely committed to the book.
Prayers for the Stolen is primarily set in a small hillside community in Guerero, not far from Acapulco, where “Everyone’s goal was to never come back.” This community is a shadow of its former self—now divided by the highway to Acapulco, it’s been fragmented; all the males have left for work in the U.S. and most have broken ties with the wives and children left behind; and the women who remain are at the mercy of the members of the drug cartels that flourish in the area. It’s the women in this book who are “the stolen,” kidnapped by cartel members either for personal use or to be sold for profit.
The central characters in this book are a quartet of teen-aged girls growing up under the strict eyes of their mothers who do all they can, first to pass their daughters off as sons, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make their daughters ugly in hopes that this will spare them from abduction: hair is cut short and badly, teeth are deliberately stained with magic marker. These four are: Paula, a remarkable beauty; Estefani, whose mother is dying of AIDS; Maria, the illegitimate half-sister of the book’s narrator; and the narrator herself, Ladydi (as in England’s Lady Di).
Through Ladydi’s voice, Clement’s book walks a fine balance, presenting the difficulties of the characters’ day-to-day lives in a neutral tone that keeps the events described from becoming unbearable for the reader, but that at the same time adds to the misery depicted, since this tone makes it clear that the events being narrated are ordinary—not moments of unusual terror or suffering. This is the way life is on Ladydi’s hillside.
In this community, no one dares open herself too fully to others, not even to God. Ladydi’s mother warns her,
Don’t every pray for love and health…. Or money. If God hears what you really want, He will not give it to you. Guaranteed.
When my father left my mother said, Get down on your knees and pray for spoons.
This book doesn’t have a happy ending—except insofar as some of the characters remain alive at its close. Still, it’s oddly hopeful. Every day survived is a triumph of sorts, even if these triumphs remain uncelebrated and never lead to comfort or a change of circumstances.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Del Rio. She will love it also. Unbelievable story....Read more