Wednesday, February 18, 2015

REVIEW: Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement


A haunting story of love and survival that introduces an unforgettable literary heroine

Ladydi Garcia Martínez is fierce, funny and smart. She was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing. In the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, women must fend for themselves, as their men have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. Here in the shadow of the drug war, bodies turn up on the outskirts of the village to be taken back to the earth by scorpions and snakes. School is held sporadically, when a volunteer can be coerced away from the big city for a semester. In Guerrero the drug lords are kings, and mothers disguise their daughters as sons, or when that fails they “make them ugly” – cropping their hair, blackening their teeth- anything to protect them from the rapacious grasp of the cartels. And when the black SUVs roll through town, Ladydi and her friends burrow into holes in their backyards like animals, tucked safely out of sight.

While her mother waits in vain for her husband’s return, Ladydi and her friends dream of a future that holds more promise than mere survival, finding humor, solidarity and fun in the face of so much tragedy. When Ladydi is offered work as a nanny for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she seizes the chance, and finds her first taste of love with a young caretaker there. But when a local murder tied to the cartel implicates a friend, Ladydi’s future takes a dark turn. Despite the odds against her, this spirited heroine’s resilience and resolve bring hope to otherwise heartbreaking conditions.

An illuminating and affecting portrait of women in rural Mexico, and a stunning exploration of the hidden consequences of an unjust war, PRAYERS FOR THE STOLEN is an unforgettable story of friendship, family, and determination.

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Hogarth (first published 2014)
ISBN 0804138788 (ISBN13: 9780804138789) 

About the Author

Jennifer Clement's new novel Prayers for the Stolen was awarded the NEA Fellowship in Literature 2012 and will be published by Hogarth (USA and UK) in February 2014. The book has also been purchased by Suhrkamp, (Germany), Editions Flammarion, Gallimard (France), De Bezige Bij (Holland), Cappelen Damm (Norway), Hr Ferdinand (Denmark), Bonniers Förlag (Sweden), Laguna (Serbia), Euromedia (Czech Republic), Ikar (Slovakia) Lumen (Spain/Mexico), Guanda (Italy), Like (Finland), Libri (Hungary), Bjartur (Iceland),Rocco (Brazil),Israeli Penn Publishing (Israel, Muza (Poland) and Sindbad (Russia).

Jennifer Clement studied English Literature and Anthropology at New York University and also studied French literature in Paris, France. She has an MFA from the University of Southern Maine.

Clement is the author of the cult classic memoir Widow Basquiat (on the painter Jean Michel Basquiat) and two novels: A True Story Based on Lies, which was a finalist in the Orange Prize for Fiction, and The Poison That Fascinates.
She is also the author of several books of poetry: The Next Stranger (with an introduction by W.S. Merwin); Newton's Sailor; Lady of the Broom and Jennifer Clement: New and Selected Poems. Her prize-winning story A Salamander-Child is published as an art book with work by the Mexican painter Gustavo Monroy.

Jennifer Clement was awarded the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Fellowship for Literature 2012. She is also the recipient of the UK's Canongate Prize. In 2007, she received a MacDowell Fellowship and the MacDowell Colony named her the Robert and Stephanie Olmsted Fellow for 2007-08. Clement is a member of Mexico's prestigious "Sistema Nacional de Creadores."

Check out the author's website

My Thoughts 
Now we make you ugly, my mother said. 
Ladydi lives in a small mountain village in Mexico. The men have all left for work in the US, their families abandoned and left behind. Drug traffickers rule here, and young girls are in constant danger of being stolen for the slave trade. Because of this, mothers try to “make their daughters ugly” any way they can, to make them less desirable to the kidnappers. Ladydi was named thus by her mother in honor not of Lady Di the woman, but of the shame and sorrow Di bore by her husband’s infidelity-- something that Ladydi’s mother understands.

Her mother is quite the character, being a vengeful, alcoholic kleptomaniac. She swears if she ever sees Ladydi’s father again, she will kill him dead!

Then there are Ladydi’s friends-- the other girls from the village: her harelip best friend Maria, beautiful Paula, and Estefani.
I loved Maria. Out of everyone in that godforsaken-godforgotten-hottest-hell-on-earth place, as my mother liked to call our mountain, she was the kindest person of all. She would walk around a big red fire ant before she'd step on one.
They live their lives on alert: on alert for kidnappers, stinging scorpions and ants and venomous snakes, evading helicopters dropping the herbicide Paraquat, which can cause permanent damage when it hits living flesh rather than poppy fields. There is always a sense of urgency to their lives conflicting with the slow, heated, languid pace of Mexican life.

Life on the mountain is hard. There is never enough of anything, except heat and humidity, ants and scorpions.
Ever since I was a child my mother had told me to say a prayer for some thing. We always did. I had prayed for clouds and pajamas. I had prayed for light bulbs and bees.

Don't ever pray for love or health, Mother said. Or money. If God hears what you really want, He will not give it to you. Guaranteed.
The only outsiders to ever come to the community are the teachers, volunteers who are required to serve a year in community service. They come with little understanding of mountain life, and are received with resentment by the likes of Ladydi's mother.
After a while we learned not to get too attached to these people who, as my mother said, come and go like salespeople with nothing to sell except the words you must.

I don't like people who come from far-away, she said. They have no idea of who we are, telling us you must do this and you must do that and you must do this and you must do that. Do I go to the city and tell them the place stinks and ask them, Hey, where's the grass and since when is the sky yellow?
He said, How can you all live like this, in a world without any men? How?

My mother took in a breath. It seemed that even the ants on the ground stopped moving. Jose Rosa's question stood in the hot wet air, as if spoken words could be suspended. I could reach out and touch the letters H and O and W.
They live in a world of women where women don't matter.
A missing woman is just another leaf that goes down the gutter in a rainstorm, she said. 
My final word: This book is really hard to review. On the one side, I liked the easy-to-read style, the lovely little metaphors thrown in here and there. I liked most of the characters, particularly Ladydi. Some characters like Mike seemed almost pointless, shallow and one-dimensional, created solely for a single moment. Some events preposterous or improbable. After I finished the book, I found myself unable to discern my feelings. I think I liked it, but then I kind of questioned at moments while reading it "What is the point?" Effective writing, likable characters, a tragically charming story. Overall I liked this story, but I just fear that it will be forgotten all-too-soon.

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My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through Blogging for Books, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

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