A young girl struggles to survive under the desolate but terrifying umbrella of the Mexican drug wars.
It wouldn’t be incorrect to call this a novel of collateral damage. We hear all the time about the executions and decapitations of the bloody wars in Mexico, not to mention the endless contest over immigration reform as desperate men cross the United States border daily, running either to or from something. But what happens to those poor souls left behind? That’s the premise behind this spare, almost noir novel by Mexico-based American poet Clement (The Poison That Fascinates, 2008, etc.) that tells the story of 13-year-old Ladydi Garcia Martinez, who lives in a small village in southwestern Mexico. Her home is very much a woman’s world, made so because all the men have either fled to the United States to start new families, been kidnapped to work for the cartels or been murdered. It’s a world where mothers bruise, maim or disguise their daughters to prevent them from being kidnapped and sold as human chattel. Ladydi’s drunken mother contemplates knocking out her teeth, while Ladydi and her friends scramble to conceal themselves in holes in the ground as convoys rumble in. Ladydi’s friend Paula, kidnapped, returns with tales of girls burning themselves with cigarettes to mark their corpses. “If we’re found dead someplace everyone will know we were stolen. It is our mark. My cigarette burns are a message,” says Paula. “You do want people to know it’s you. Otherwise how will our mothers find us?” Eventually, Ladydi escapes to become a nanny for a rich couple in Acapulco, but a baseless misunderstanding lands her in a women’s prison, where Ladydi must rely on her fellow inmates to retain her last vestiges of hope. Some thematic elements recall Clement’s 2002 novel A True Story Based on Lies, but overall, this is a much richer and more durable tale.
A stark portrait of women abused or abandoned by every side in an awful conflict.