The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trailby Oscar Martinez
One day a few years ago, 300 migrants were kidnapped between the remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got 120 released, many with broken ankles and other marks of abuse, but the rest vanished. Óscar Martínez, a young writer from El Salvador, was in Altar soon after the abduction, and his account of the migrant disappearances is only one of the harrowing stories he garnered from two years spent traveling up and down the migrant trail from Central America and across the US border. More than a quarter of a million Central Americans make this increasingly dangerous journey each year, and each year as many as 20,000 of them are kidnapped.
Martínez writes in powerful, unforgettable prose about clinging to the tops of freight trains; finding respite, work and hardship in shelters and brothels; and riding shotgun with the border patrol. Illustrated with stunning full-color photographs, The Beast is the first book to shed light on the harsh new reality of the migrant trail in the age of the narcotraficantes.
From the Hardcover edition.
This searing account of the hardships suffered by Central American migrants headed through Mexico to the United States comes from true shoe-leather reporting. In 2007 and 2008, Salvadoran journalist Martinez criss-crossed the most dangerous parts of Mexico to capture stories of Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans traversing what's increasingly become a criminal narco-state. Robbery, kidnapping, rape, and assault are "the inevitable tolls of the road" imposed by cartels that have branched out into human trafficking and extortion. Martinez observes that today, human trafficking and prostitution isn't "…a scar-faced man tending a cage of women. It's a complex system of everyday lies and coercions that happen just behind our backs." A journey marred by armed assaults and fatal accidents on "The Beast" (a freight train running north through the state of Oaxaca) is a trip "soaked with blood." This straightforward translation, first published in Spanish in 2010, doesn't flinch at migrants' plight, and as the drug wars further rend Mexico asunder, it's hard to imagine the situation changing. (Oct.)
“Harrowing … The graceful, incisive writing lifts The Beast from being merely an impressive feat of reportage into the realm of literature. Mr. Martínez has produced something that is an honorable successor to enduring works like George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier or Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives.”
—New York Times
“The most extraordinary (and harrowing) book I read this year. Beautiful and searing and impossible to put down.”
“The world that Oscar Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, set out to report on five years ago is so violent, depraved and hellish, you can hardly believe he survived to tell the tale... rugged prose, beautifully translated.”
“Martínez is a powerful storyteller and his approach to investigative journalism is closer to anthropological immersion: He walks with migrants through bloody forests, eats with them at spartan shelters, and rides with them atop speeding trains.”
—Columbia Journalism Review
“The Beast, like so many great books, lands on you with a revelatory frisson, the arrival of a story we didn’t know we were waiting to hear.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“… Martínez’s debut is the hard-won result of immersive journalism.”
"This searing account of the hardships suffered by Central American migrants headed through Mexico to the United States comes from true shoe-leather reporting."
“To understand the dramatic realities faced by the migrants who flee northwards to find work in the United States, Óscar Martínez literally jumped trains and dodged killers. He deserves praise not only for his efforts, and for what he writes about, but because he writes so very well.”
—Jon Lee Anderson, staff reporter for the New Yorker
“A heartbreaking book about the world’s most invisible people. A revelatory work of love and hair-raising courage.”
—Alma Guillermoprieto, Latin America correspondent for the New York Review of Books, author of Dancing with Cuba
“Óscar Martínez is a journalist of uncommon bravery and a writer of prodigious talent. The Beast is a powerful, necessary book, one of the finest pieces of journalism to emerge from Latin America in years.”
—Daniel Alarcón, author of At Night We Walk in Circles
Grim, grisly account of the predations suffered by impoverished migrants on the hazardous journey to el Norte. Previously published in Spain in 2010 and in Mexico in 2012, Martínez's debut is the hard-won result of immersive journalism. After several large-scale kidnappings of migrants, the author spent two years following the routes used by undocumented travelers though Mexico. He found that the rise of powerful, violent drug cartels has eradicated the rules of an already challenging journey; now, the migrants are universally viewed as human chattel to be exploited. Martínez writes precisely, with bleak gallows humor, as when he notes of cops unhappy with his investigation, "a dead migrant is commonplace, but a couple of dead journalists is another matter." Yet all his observations are numbingly bleak. He finds border cities, like the notoriously violent Ciudad Juarez, to be "racked by a madness akin to civil war," while the feared Los Zetas "have infiltrated everywhere. Not even the Army is clean." The narrative is a litany of horrors: casual murder, near-universal sexual assault and frequent accidental deaths via freight-hopping. Martínez portrays a Mexican society in which these pathologies are universally understood, yet cartel intimidation and bureaucratic corruption have destroyed the social order: "There is, simply put, nobody to assure the safety of migrants in Mexico." Meanwhile, the United States' high-tech border militarization has resulted in a "funneling" effect, forcing vulnerable migrants and drug smugglers to share increasingly constricted routes. "Where is it safe to cross? And the answer is, nowhere," he writes. "The US government has made sure of that." Martínez develops attentive portraits of the migrants, officials, aid workers and criminals he encounters; his first-person account is executed with passion and grit, illuminating a heartbreaking yet easily ignored reality. A harrowing look at the real costs of globalization, immigration and drug-prohibition politics, short on solutions and absent hope.
- Verso Books
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Meet the Author
Óscar Martínez writes for ElFaro.net, the first online newspaper in Latin America. The original edition of his book Los migrantes que no importan was published in 2010 by Icaria and El Faro and a second edition by Mexico’s sur+ Ediciones in 2012. Martínez is currently writing chronicles and articles for El Faro’s project, Sala Negra, investigating gang violence in Latin America. In 2008, Martínez won the Fernando Benítez National Journalism Prize in Mexico, and in 2009, he was awarded the Human Rights Prize at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University in El Salvador.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The Beast is a must read for anyone concerned about undocumented workers entering the United States. The Beast focuses on the tremendous challenges faced by people trying to enter the US to escape intolerable conditions in their home countries and the added difficulties faced due to increased efforts on the part of the US to reduce the flow. The influence of drug cartels was particularly eye opening.. Whatever your views on immigration reform, The Beast provides first hand insight into the often nightmarish conditions incurred by people looking to leave behind their old lives for something better.
This book brings the " other side " of the picture into the forefront. Being born in the US, I understand how migrents coming here ends up costing the US; hospital costs, taking jobs; just to nane a couple. Now, lets flip the coin; what parent doesn't want to provide a better life for their children? I commend them for their courage. Review by, Pamisue