So the controversy surrounding this novel initially kept me away until my work book club voted to read it. I understand the criticism that the author is not Mexican and cannot write from the perspective of living through a similar situation but this novel is about the human experience to survive more than it is trauma porn.
I found this novel to be thoroughly researched and compelling but for me did not veer into the criticized “trauma porn” area. In fact, I felt the author hinted and showed the violence and dangers of migration without overwhelming the reader with gruesome details.
The characters were each trying to survive El Bestia and the trip to el Norte without dying or losing their humanity.
In a personal level, I’ve been to Acapulco and Mexico City and even Tiajuana many years ago and have always loved visiting these areas. There is a sad dichotomy between Mexico losing the tourist trade due to the cartels and also being beholden to the cartels for helping the people by building hospitals and infrastructure.
Lydia is great friends with Javier through the bookstore she owns. She finds him interesting, intelligent, and cultured. When her newspaper reporter husband informs her that Javier is the head of the notorious Los Jardinos cartel, Lydia struggles to reconcile the man she knows with the violence that is attributed to him and his cartel.
When Lydia finds herself on the run with her 8 year old son, it is terrifying and yet life-affirming to see the dangers they face mixed with the kindness of strangers.
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