Vaillant’s debut fiction follows Hector Lazaro from Mexico’s Sierra Juárez to Oaxaca’s el Centro to an old tanker truck poised to sneak into El Norte, the promised land.
Because of his abuelo, an old man deeply rooted in Zapotec lands and culture, Hector carries an elemental connection to Oaxaca, a place somewhat Spanish but mostly Indio. But dreaming of El Norte, Hector’s father took his son into the U.S. for a few years, until la Migra found them. Home in Mexico, Hector earned his way into college, but his father kept insisting Hector head north, saying of Oaxaca, "[n]othing is changing in five hundred years." Now Hector’s on the border, but it’s only because he tried to help his childhood friend Cesar, ending up pursued by the federales because Cesar has a secret. Now the friends, and other desperate migrants, are trapped in an abandoned tanker truck, "smelling like the intestine of some animal, slowly digesting us." Cesar has a head injury, and Hector has a bit of water and Cesar’s cellphone with one American contact, AnniMac, but no signal. Vaillant’s tension-filled narrative has Hector relating his story into a sound file, all while meditating on "the distance between Hope and God and Death growing smaller until it is impossible to tell one from the others." As Hector tends to comatose Cesar, his deep and poignant story unfolds, covering his early life and his chance encounter with Cesar, whose research discovered clandestine information about KØrtez400, a GMO seed, which left Cesar pursued by murderous government bureaucrats. With superb minor characters like Don Serafín, "a rich and powerful chingón," and Hector’s abuelo, a man who had his own deep secret linked to 1930s work with an American archaeologist, Hector’s reflections on Oaxacan culture fascinate. Vaillant writes with power and emotion, affection and respect for the Zapotec people and lands, a fertile place, where "the corn made possible everything we do and are," now imperiled by international agribusiness.
An eloquent literary dissection of the divide between the United States and Mexico.