Prayers for the Stolenby Jennifer Clement
‘Now we make you ugly,’ my mother said. ‘The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl.’
On the mountainside in rural Mexico where Ladydi lives, being a girl is dangerous. Especially a pretty one. If the Narcos hear there is a pretty girl on the mountain, they steal her. So when the black SUVs roll into town, Ladydi and/p>/i>… See more details below
‘Now we make you ugly,’ my mother said. ‘The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl.’
On the mountainside in rural Mexico where Ladydi lives, being a girl is dangerous. Especially a pretty one. If the Narcos hear there is a pretty girl on the mountain, they steal her. So when the black SUVs roll into town, Ladydi and her friends hide in the warren of holes scattered across the mountain, safely out of sight. Because the stolen girls don’t come back.
Ladydi is determined to get out, to find a life that offers more than just the struggle to survive. But she soon finds that the drug cartels have eyes everywhere, and the cities are no safer than the mountains.
The first novel from the American-born but Mexico-based Clement, president of PEN Mexico, to be published in the U.S. is an expose of the hideously dangerous lives girls lead in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Despite its social significance, the book doesn’t read like homework; Clement is more a poet than a documentarian, and the girls and women of the village she chronicles are complex individuals. Ladydi, named after Princess Diana, spends her childhood dressed as a boy, as do all the girls from her village, since they will otherwise be kidnapped and forced into prostitution or drug smuggling. Most of the men from Ladydi’s village left a long time ago. The community is shocked when one kidnapped girl—the transcendently beautiful, now near-catatonic Paula—manages to return. Ladydi, thinking to save herself from Paula’s fate, decides to accept an offer of work from Mike, her best friend Maria’s brother, as a nanny in Acapulco, where, as he tells her, “people are rich, rich, rich.” However, Ladydi soon discovers that in a corrupt system, any apparent opportunity comes with hidden traps. Clement treats the brutal material honestly but not sensationally, conveying the harshest moments secondhand rather than directly, and ultimately allows Ladydi to continue to hope. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME Entertainment. (Feb.)
Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Prize
“Beguiling, and even crazily enchanting… [Clement] writes a poet’s prose, spare and simple, creating her world through patterns of repeated and varied metaphors and images that blossom inside the reader like radiant poppies…Prayers for the Stolen gives us words for what we haven’t had words for before, like something translated from a dream in a secret language. The novel is an ebullient yet deeply stirring paean to its female characters’ resiliency and capacity for loyalty, friendship, compassion and love, but also to the power of fiction and poetry.”—Francisco Goldman, New York Times Book Review
"[A] beautiful, heart-rending novel...Fiercely observed comparisons of human and inanimate life form a continuing motif throughout the story...[Clement] achieves the formidable feat of smooth, clear English that pulses with an energy and sensibility that is convincingly Latin American… So compelling...Prayers for the Stolen is a powerful read.”—Wall Street Journal
“The author builds a powerful narrative whose images re-create an alarming reality that not everyone has dared to address but that everyone has definitely heard. Let's pray for spoons.”—El Paso Times
"The theme of Prayers for the Stolen is the wanton violence inflicted on women and the destruction of communities as a result of the drug trade in Mexico, but Clement's eye for the revealing detail, the simple poetry of her language and the visceral authenticity of her characters turn that deadening reality into a compelling, tragically beautiful novel."—Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi
“With Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement has cracked open, rewired, and madly reimagined the coming-of-age narrative through the eyes and mind of an ingenious and wise young woman. This book is a glorious fever dream of honesty and love.” —Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River
“Prayers for the Stolen is a magnificent story, filled with a wisdom so dense and ancient as to seem almost unbearable. One wants to turn away, but cannot. It’s a mesmerizing read, illustrative of the idea that even traces of beauty, deeply felt, can help carry a traveler through the harshest landscape, or the harshest life.” —Rick Bass, author of Why I Came West
“What can I say about this novel? That it’s extraordinary, electric, heartbreaking, profound? There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how moved I was by the story of Ladydi and her friends, of their tragic lives and quiet fortitude in spite of a world that conspires against them. Maybe it’s enough just to say this: Prayers for the Stolen is the best book I’ve read in years.” —Cristina Henríquez, author of The World in Half
"The most enchanting journey I’ve taken in a long, long time, and the most important. Prayers For The Stolen is a hand-guided tour through a ruthless true corner of our century, with characters so alive they will burrow into your heart. Stunningly written, magically detailed, you see, smell and taste the action on every page, feel every foible, and miss the candor of these funny, achingly human voices long after you put them down. As the heroine herself might say: not something to read but to lick off a plate." —DBC Pierre, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Vernon God Little
“Compelling...Just beautiful…Really, really beautiful.”—Diane Rehm, NPR
“Clement is more a poet than a documentarian, and the girls and women of the village she chronicles are complex individuals...Clement treats the brutal material honestly...and ultimately allows Ladydi to continue to hope.”—Publishers Weekly
"Moving...Through a beautifully rendered poetic rhythm all her own, Clement tells a story of the often forgotten women who carry on through the drug wars...Prayers for the Stolen tells a complicated and layered story...It feels painfully real, with a dry wit and subtly inquisitive subtext that should leave American readers wondering what can be done."—Kirkus Reviews
International Praise for Prayers for the Stolen
“Highly original…[Clement’s] prose is poetic in the true sense: precise as a scalpel, lyrical without being indulgent.” – The Guardian
“What a marvelous writer Clement is....[With] power in a prose that is simple and simply beguiling.” – The Scotsman
"Bold and innovative…The rich mixture of the outlandishly real and the hyperfabulistic has a certain superstitious power over the reader. Jennifer Clement employs poetry's ability to mirror thought… superbly drawn." —The Times Literary Supplement
“That is the triumph of Clement’s tone in the novel—she shows the black comedy in the details and the emergency in the broader picture...There is a chance that fiction can make a difference.”—Telegraph
“Beautifully written...Clement's prose is luminous and startlingly original. The sentences are spare and stripped back, but brilliantly manage to contain complex characters and intense emotional histories in a few vividly poetic words. Her portrayal of modern Mexico is heartbreaking; a dangerous and damaging environment for women, but her portrait of Ladydi and her refusal to be one of the lost girls is defiantly bold and bravely uncompromising”— Sunday Express
“Ladydi’s irreverent voice sings off the page and there are laughs to be had as she relates her mother’s drunken wisdom and seeks to find a way to live”— Metro
”Despite its violent premise, this is a darkly comic read with one of the funniest, most touching narrators in years, highlighting a very real issue in a remarkably fresh way. An inspiring story of female resilience”— Psychologies
“With Ladydi, Jennifer Clement has created a feisty teenage heroine who is an unforgettable character”— Good Housekeeping
A young girl struggles to survive under the desolate but terrifying umbrella of the Mexican drug wars. It wouldn't be incorrect to call this a novel of collateral damage. We hear all the time about the executions and decapitations of the bloody wars in Mexico, not to mention the endless contest over immigration reform as desperate men cross the United States border daily, running either to or from something. But what happens to those poor souls left behind? That's the premise behind this spare, almost noir novel by Mexico-based American poet Clement (The Poison That Fascinates, 2008, etc.) that tells the story of 13-year-old Ladydi Garcia Martinez, who lives in a small village in southwestern Mexico. Her home is very much a woman's world, made so because all the men have either fled to the United States to start new families, been kidnapped to work for the cartels or been murdered. It's a world where mothers bruise, maim or disguise their daughters to prevent them from being kidnapped and sold as human chattel. Ladydi's drunken mother contemplates knocking out her teeth, while Ladydi and her friends scramble to conceal themselves in holes in the ground as convoys rumble in. Ladydi's friend Paula, kidnapped, returns with tales of girls burning themselves with cigarettes to mark their corpses. "If we're found dead someplace everyone will know we were stolen. It is our mark. My cigarette burns are a message," says Paula. "You do want people to know it's you. Otherwise how will our mothers find us?" Eventually, Ladydi escapes to become a nanny for a rich couple in Acapulco, but a baseless misunderstanding lands her in a women's prison, where Ladydi must rely on her fellow inmates to retain her last vestiges of hope. Some thematic elements recall Clement's 2002 novel A True Story Based on Lies, but overall, this is a much richer and more durable tale. A stark portrait of women abused or abandoned by every side in an awful conflict.
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Meet the Author
Jennifer Clement is the author of multiple books, including Widow Basquiat. She was awarded the NEA Fellowship for Literature and the Sara Curry Humanitarian Award for Prayers for the Stolen. The president of PEN International, she currently lives in Mexico City.
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You are a pretty girl. This is a bad thing because people will come and steal pretty girls. So your mothers black out your teeth with permanent marker. They dress you in boy clothes and dig holes in the ground for you to hide in when the large SUVs come by. This is Ladydi's life, in a small town in Mexico in an area controlled by drug cartels. This is Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. Prayers for the Stolen is intense. It's unique and gritty. My favorite parts were of Ladydi as a young girl, but the book follows her as she grows, to a wealthy home in Acapulco and then to a women's prison. I was introduced to this book by Monika @ A Lovely Bookshelf and then managed to snag a copy at ALAMW14 in January. I'm so glad I did. This is the kind of book I love - grit, drug cartels, prison, and a little bit of weirdness. Ever been to Mexico? Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
A remarkable novel! It is powerful and filled with so many haunting stories and characters, all narrated with an authentic voice I believe.
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. 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. 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. They live in a world of women where women don't matter. 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.
I could not put this book down. Jennifer Clement has a knack for writing real, interesting characters that kept me wondering throughout the day what would happen next. Her descriptions of Mexican climate is incredibly accurate; no wonder, she lived in Mexico most of her young life. It takes a moment to get adjusted to her way of describing things, but once you're there, the story is enjoyable. "Prayers for the Stolen" is a story about a young girl's life in a very poor mountain community of all women and their daughters. All of the men had left for work in the United States, leaving the women behind. The story follows Ladydi Garcia Martinez, describing the life she and her friends are exposed to. Its very sad, the girls have to pretend they are ugly or are boys so that drug lords do not steal them as sex slaves. The first half of the book describes this hard life centering around her and her friends. The second half of the book follows Ladydi as she finishes school and finds work in the nearby town. The story certainly surprised me, though I wish it was much longer. I feel like so much more could have been filled in...However the author leaves the book off at an acceptable cutoff point. I am not someone who reads ethnically-centered literature, however I really enjoyed this story, and it made me think about something that I don't normally. It is a quick, enjoyable read and I recommend it. Source: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
Prayers for the Stolen is set in a tiny village outside of Chilpancingo in Guerrero, where poverty and alcoholism are the least of these characters' worries. Drug traffickers rule the area. People are kidnapped on a regular basis. Girls are either disguised as boys or made "ugly" in a seemingly vain attempt to prevent being abducted and sold. Doctors and teachers appear intermittently, sometimes only with armed guards, because they are too afraid to venture into the area. Law enforcement and the justice system are corrupt. And on and on and on. "If a cartel kidnaps you, like the Zetas, then you go to the land of dead immigrants, a special death place, without a birth certificate or gravestone, and nothing is worse than this." Ladydi is a compelling main character who pulls you into her dangerous world, making it impossible to turn away. She shows us the importance of close family relationships and friendships in the face of violent, appalling conditions. With a bright and optimistic spirit, she perseveres when it seems completely futile to forge ahead. In many ways, I was reminded of Silvia Avallone's Swimming to Elba: How does a person escape the circumstances of the location in which she happens to be born? What compels her to try at all, when things are so dire? I felt lukewarm toward the ending, but at least Clement leaves her readers with the possibility of hope. Prayers for the Stolen is a powerful, shocking novel that left me haunted by the plight of its characters. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.