Bookshots: 'Prayers for the Stolen' by Jennifer Clement
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Prayers for the Stolen
Who wrote it?
Jennifer Clement, novelist and poet. She lives in Mexico City. Prayers for the Stolen is the first of her works to be published in the US.
Plot in a Box:
Ladydi Garcia Marquez grows up in the Guerrera mountains near Acapulco, amidst the terror and chaos inflicted on her community by drugs and the war against them.
Invent a new title for this book:
Love in the Time of Heroin
Read this if you liked:
I racked my brains for literary equivalents, but the best I could come up with were the TV series The Bridge and the superb movie Amores Perros, both of which use personal stories to capture Mexico’s mordant, melancholy charm.
Meet the book’s lead:
Ladydi Garcia Marquez, named for Lady Diana Spencer by her mother, in solidarity with all cheated-on wives, and possessor of a complicated and dangerous family history.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Setting: would you want to live here?
Totally, so long as I could keep clear of the drug cartels and corrupt government officials. And the scorpions.
What was your favorite sentence?
The advice given by one of Ladydi’s prisoner friends on visiting day at Santa Marta jail rings very true:
Hold onto your prayers, she said, every religion known to man comes here on Sunday and wants to steal them.
Jennifer Clement describes her third novel as a work of fiction based on truth. In Mexico, hundreds of thousands of women disappear every year – taken as prostitutes, drug mules, forced labour on illegal poppy fields, forced labour on the estates of drug barons. In Prayers for the Stolen Clement has constructed the story of just one: Ladydi, who lives in a village full only of women (all the men are either dead, working for the cartels, or have new lives in the US). And the women, like the men, are also prone to disappearance. Mothers blacken their daughter’s teeth and chop off their hair. They keep dogs to warn them when the traffickers approach in their SUVs. But the most beautiful girls will inevitably be taken and sold, to a drug baron if they are lucky, to a brothel if they are not.
With this as the base material, it would be very easy to write a book full of anger and outrage. What Clement creates instead is generous and compassionate and funny. Ladydi, who journeys from child to adult in the space of the story, makes an easy travelling companion. Her wry observations wring humour out of the tragedy — her kleptomaniac mother who hides random trinkets in her hairdo; the maid Jacaranda who dutifully cleans the eyes of the stuffed animals of her employer, even though he is as dead as his trophies; the exuberant fatalism of the female prisoners in the Mexico City jail where Ladydi ends up. A world without men is mad and petty and not without its share of bitchery, but it is also kind and infused with a very female brand of solidarity.
It would also be easy to make this a book about sexual politics, but Clement resists the temptation of gender-based point scoring. The men do terrible things, but their lives are shaped and shortened by the same forces as the women. No one in Mexico escapes the consequences of being a poor neighbor to a rich man. The US beckons. The men who cross the river become dead to those they leave behind. As for the women, Clement explains the results for them of Mexico’s brutally simplistic version of capitalism in a single sentence on her website:
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.
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