Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement This short novel is set in a village near Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico, where there are no men because they’ve all gone to the US or joined drug gangs. The women are fearful for their daughters being kidnapped by drug lords. The poverty and violence and fear they endure daily is heartbreaking. The constant flood of violence reminded me of Bastard Out of Carolina except that in this book racism and international policy lurk behind the violence. The way that ‘development’ and the drug war led to this village’s deterioration is clear.
A girl named Ladydi is the narrator, telling the story of her closest girl friends: Maria, born with a harelip, a blessing because it protects her from kidnapping, Estefani, whose mother has AIDS, and Paula, the most beautiful, who is stolen. Lots of little vignettes about life in their village make up the novel. Ladydi’s mother is a bitter alcoholic kleptomaniac. When the black SUVs of the drug lords ride through the village, girls hide in holes pray not to hear gunshots. Ladydi’s childlike voice states all these horrors in the most matter-of-fact way; this is just the way life is, it’s all she’s known. She also has a sense of humor and is more aware of things than the adults in her life. It’s definitely a voice-driven novel, and one that makes you pay attention to the language.
The descriptions of the setting are really vivid and unique. Some dominant images are insects, plastic flip-flops, and poisonous herbicide and pesticide. The combination of modern technology with extreme rural poverty was particularly striking. For example, everyone in the village hangs out in this clearing because it’s the only place in the village where cell phones work. Ladydi’s mother considers herself educated because she watches the History Channel on satellite TV, so she knows all about the British monarchy, but her daughter only graduates from primary school. This novel is heartbreaking, but also enjoyable. It enlarges your perspective a little to see what people in other parts of the world go through.