While serving a sentence in a Mexican prison, Libertad González passes the time at the weekly Library Club, reading to her fellow inmates from whatever books she can find in the prison’s meager supply. With her stories, Libertad enthralls a group of female prisoners every bit as eccentric as the tales she tells.
But the story that emerges has nothing to do with the words printed on the pages. Instead, she tells the story of Joaquín González, a former professor and fugitive of the Mexican government who reinvents himself as a trucker in the United States. There he falls in love with a wild woman with whom he shares his truck and his life, until he unexpectedly finds himself alone on the road with a baby girl.
Joaquín and his daughter make the cab of an 18-wheeler their home, sharing everything—adventures, books, truck-stop chow, and memories of the girl’s mother—until the girl grows into a woman, and a chance encounter with one man causes her to rebel against another.
|Product dimensions:||5.21(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.65(d)|
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“Bringing back to life all the people I killed is the one wish at the top of my list.” Had she said those words aloud? Libertad sat up and looked around to check if anyone had heard her.
Maciza, dozing a few feet away, had trained her ears to listen for rats tiptoeing around their prison cell. She easily heard Libertad's impossible wish.
"So, who did you kill?"
"It's none of your business."
"Did you kill anyone?"
Libertad couldn't get herself to confess anything. She opened her journal and in the darkness searched for her pen between the folds of her blanket. A cellmate in the far corner snored. Someone in one of the upper bunks yelled, "Shut up!" With so many women sleeping in such a small cell, it was hard to tell where one body ended and another began, making it difficult to identify oneself as an individual.
"I don't think you killed anyone, Libertad. I think you want me to believe that just to impress me. Were you pushing chocolate in Tijuana?"
"Mud, tootsie roll, heroin. Maybe you kidnapped some rich bastard. C'mon, Libertad, give me some trust. You've been in this shit hole for almost a year. It's time to share."
"I said it's none of your business."
"Were you hanging with one of those narcos, or was it fraud? Or a scam? I bet it was one of those educated people's felonies."
"I'm not going to talk about it."
"At least tell me what the hell you're doing locked up in a Mexican prison. Your government should be trying to get you out of here. Isn't that what Americans do in their movies?"
"Just drop it, will you? I'm not digging around to find out why you're here."
"That's because you already know."
"All I know is that you killed your husband. It's no secret. You've told everyone."
"Yeah, that's right. But why I did it is what I don't discuss with just anyone. Only with someone I know will understand. That means you, and no one else in this goddamn hen pen."
"All right, why did you do it?"
"I did it for love."
Libertad wished she were as certain as Maciza was about why she had made her own mistakes. But her memories were in disarray. She needed to do some serious mental housekeeping.
In her first few days at the Mexicali Penal Institution for Women, Libertad had kept to herself, but the more she tried to avoid conversation with the other inmates, the more she was stalked with questions in the hallways, in the showers, in the toilet, in the kitchen. Every so often she tried to tell them why she was there, but she found it impossible to explain. Once, when she was asked directly, she uttered a fetus of a word, something like, "Iaaggrhh." Since she was in the cafeteria, the woman next to her thought she was choking and proceeded to pound her on the back with all her might. Her tray fell off the table and her poor man's chilaquiles—with no chicken, that is—spilled on the floor.
Libertad was not complying with the unwritten rule that all new prisoners had to declare and make public the reason they had been incarcerated. Everyone had to know who had done what to whom and why the prisoner claimed to be innocent. Of course, extensive details of the crime were expected. Otherwise, what would they all talk about in those long desert days?
Because Libertad's strange behavior had brought out a chronic uneasiness and a desperate curiosity among her fellow inmates, she tried to belong in other ways. She taught Diva, one of her seven other cellmates and an authority on prison fashion, how to calculate the time by positioning her fingers in a certain angle against the palm of her other hand.
"It's a hand sundial."
"Very useful around here," said Diva as she tried it, nearly burning her eyes from staring at the sun in the middle of the exercise yard.
Libertad also helped Maciza train for a nonexistent marathon by timing her laps around the cellblock's hallways and shared her tamales with Culebra, the woman with the longest fingernails she had ever seen.
But even after curfew, after the lights were out and everyone had settled in to sleep, a question would shoot into the darkness of her cell.
"Are you in for murder?"
As the first couple of months went by, Libertad's cellmates began to lose control of their curiosity and tried all kinds of techniques to squeeze the story out of her, even the hard-core ones they'd been exposed to firsthand during their encounters with the Mexican authorities. But just before they resorted to torture, Maciza put a stop to it. She knew Libertad would crack sooner or later. She had subtler, more effective psychological ways to work her over.
"It's okay, I can wait. You can blab your guts out when you're ready," Maciza would say. "That's all we do around here, anyway. We blab our guts out."
"It's not that I won't talk, Maciza. I just can't."
"Don't worry, it will come out. We'll make it come out."
A book changed everything. Which book, Libertad didn't remember. All she knew was that a few months after she arrived in the Mexicali Penal Institution for Women, she went to the library, picked up a dog-eared paperback, and began reading aloud, the way her father had taught her and the only way she knew. Sitting in that dark and sorry-looking room, she noticed that the words on the page were different from the words she said.
She wondered if her thoughts were getting tangled with the plot. It happened to her sometimes, when she was tired. She tried to read again, this time paying more attention to the story, but it didn't work. By the time she looked up, a small group of inmates had gathered around her and were listening attentively. From then on, she'd go to the library, pick any book, and read as loud as she could. Somehow, between the chapters in those tattered paperbacks and the stories in her mind, the words transformed themselves into her own account of the events that led to her incarceration.
When she read to her fellow inmates, she felt the pressure in her chest ease. She imagined her lungs backed up with words and her voice pushing them out, letting her breathe. Wiping her soul clean of remorse had turned out to be most difficult and slow, but she had more time than life. This was her only way of alleviating the pain.
We started the business together when I was born, my father and I. The sign on the door of our truck read GONZALEZ & DAUGHTER TRUCKING CO. I'd touch those words before I got in the cab. This ritual gave me a sense of comfort. It was part of my routine. To feel the subtle texture of the pink words and the purple border and with the same fingers make the sign of the cross. Then, to open the gate of the tiny plastic altar glued to the dashboard and kiss the Virgin of Guadalupe. All that had to happen before I put the key in the ignition.
Libertad made eye contact with the other inmates listening to her story in the prison library and wiped a drop of sweat off her forehead.
Soon after she realized that whenever she read aloud she drew an audience, and that the stories she told were not in the books but in her head, she decided to find a way to turn her time in the library into a prison activity. It would be her way of confessing her crime to her fellow inmates. So, in a long letter written on the back of an unused visitor permit, Libertad proposed to Warden Guzmon to set up and run a library club at no cost to the government. Her suggestion was immediately approved.
That hot and arid day she pretended to read from The Three Musketeers. The paper in the mangled book was so brittle and dry that it absorbed her saliva, desperately quenching its thirst every time she licked her finger to turn a page.
The air, too, was a prisoner here. No drafts. No fresh air. Only heat, the kind that injures the nostrils. This jail was the hottest place in Mexicali, a city known to be the hottest in the world. But the inmates' attention never wavered. Maciza, sitting in the second row, blew quick breaths down her shirt in an effort to dry the sweat that pooled between her generous breasts.
Like millions of other Mexicans, I was born in Los Angeles, California. But I never lived there. I was always on the road, traveling with my father. We took our truck across the country, from coast to coast, on interstate highways, back roads, even small dirt roads that would never make it to a map. But we didn't cross over to Mexico. Ever. That country, as much as I'd learned to love it, was off-limits for us and I never set foot in it until much later in my trucking life. Everywhere else, I was known as Gonzalez's daughter, Gonzalez's girl, Gonzalez's kiddo.
And what about my education? What I know I learned from my father. We'd make a special stop in every city to browse for books, in English or Spanish, particularly in those small, cluttered bookstores almost always located in busy downtown streets where it was impossible to maneuver, let alone park, our rig. But the ordeal was part of the thrill. Wherever we went, no matter what type of road we traveled or how heavy a load we hauled, we read aloud to each other over the constant rumble of the engine. I never went to school. I was truck-schooled.
As a little girl, I read while my father drove. Later, when I finally took over the steering wheel, he did the reading. Then we'd trade places. Because we couldn't store the books we'd already finished in our truck's tiny sleeper, we'd throw them out the window, leaving the highways scattered with knowledge. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is probably lying by the carcass of a skunk on the shoulder of Interstate 10 just past Indio. Loose pages of Hamlet tangled in tumbleweed must be rolling across Highway 86, over by Salton Sea. Sand dunes on the way to Palm Springs, right where the windmills catch the air from the desert and turn it into electricity, are digesting the deluxe edition of Don Quixote. If I could string together all the lines of text I've read aloud on the road, I'd be able to tie a bow of words around the world.
Libertad stopped to check the time on the clock hanging high on the wall across the library. Once again, as it had been since its inception a couple of months back, the hour allotted to their weekly Library Club had gone much too fast. She put The Three Musketeers on the shelf next to Crime and Punishment and announced to her audience, "That's it for today. We'll continue next Wednesday."
"Where's the mother?" asked Maciza on the way out. "Where the hell is the mother?"
"It's coming up in one of the next chapters."
"Why isn't she in the truck with her little girl?"
"You'll find out."
Reading Group Guide
1. Warden Guzmán takes advantage of her position for her own gain and is sometimes motivated by her desire for money rather than her strict responsibilities as a warden,but she also displays an understanding of her prisoners that leads her to recognize Chapopota’s rehabilitation and at times, also kindness. How much do you think the warden cares about the women under her watch? Is her system, such as it is, effective in promoting the inmates’ welfare?
2. When Libertad is greeted at the prison gates by her father and Martin, the inmates remark that Martin is not handsome enough to be the man in the story—revealing that Libertad’s account of her past in Library Club is perhaps not the strictest truth. Are there any other parts of her story you would doubt? Is there anything you suspect she’s left out?
3. What portion of the Library Club do you think believes that Libertad’s story is a work of fiction? Are those that believe she is truly reading from books written by others gullible to believe this, or is this a willful delusion?
4. The book begins with Libertad’s wish that she could bring back all the people she killed. What was your initial impression of her crime? How did our suspicions evolve over the course of the book?
5. Was Libertad’s arranging to have her father beaten an act of kindness, or was there some malice involved? Do you think she forgave him for his mistakes?
6. Many of the women in the prison seem to have invented names to use in prison. What does this say about the culture in the prison? What do the inmates’ names—Matriarca, Maciza, Diva, Libertad—say about the women themselves?
7. How do you envision Libertad’s life after her release? Will her relationship with Martin be happy? Will she continue on the road? How do you think her relationship with her father will change?
8. Do you think Maciza will be a good mother to her son, Pollito? Why or why not?
9. When the Vietnamese prisoners ask to stay in prison rather than go free, the warden is unsurprised. In fact, this is not the first time in the course of the book that a woman has made such a request. Why would they want to remain incarcerated? What do they—and what do you—find appealing about the prison?
10. When Libertad saw high heels in Martin’s tidied-up house, what do you think the real story was? Was there another woman? Is that, as Libertad explains it, only natural given her own long absence and silence, or is there a more innocuous explanation?
11. After Libertad’s departure, it is announced that the time slot once held by Library Club will now feature sessions of wrapping lollipops for a candy factory. How do you think this change will affect the prisoners? Do you think the prisoners will find other group activities to fill the same creative or therapeutic needs that Library Club addressed? Do you think they’ll need to?
12. What makes Libertad’s story so compelling for her audience?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Libertad is an American girl (Mexican father and American mother) who is incarcerated in a prison in Mexico for a crime that is not revealed until the end of the book. All of the inmates talk about their own crimes and each others' crimes except for Libertad. Instead, she starts a reading group in the prison library and each week reads aloud to the other female prisoners. The majority of them are illiterate and do not realize she is not reading from the book in her hand but is telling them her life story. Explores father-daughter relationships, how running from the past can destroy the future, and love and forgiveness. There is a magical quality to the book that is mesmerizing. Loved the characters and loved the book.
One would think a story told by a young woman from inside a Mexican prison would be dreary. Not at all! She tells of her unusual upbringing, always holding back some key details that keep you wanting to hear more. Throughout her tale you'll be rooting for this likeable girl, Libertad, and smiling at the end.
This is an excellent, fictional short read that is uniquely written from an imprisoned young woman's perspective. She is co-author and story teller of her life on the open highways with her over protective father, which was oddly more of a prison than the real one she eventually ended up in. The real prison was also where she was free to grow up. Well constructed. I loved it!
Our book club found this book highly original with a finely crafted plot that provided insights into the life and coping of this woman as she lived in a Mexian womens' prison. Her story was poignant and her spirit remarkable. We found the settings fascinating. We agreed that this book should have been more vigorously marketed. It was hard to find in bookstores when it should have been out on front display tables!
The author keeps your attention throughout this story of a protective father and innocent daughter. The way the author finally reveals how Libertad got in this situation is very original. Escandon portrays all of the characters in an endearing manner. I do recommend this book and can't wait to read her other book "Esperanza's Box of Saints".
González and Daughter Trucking Co. by María Amparo Escandón is a wonderful story. It was published by the Three Rivers Press in New York, 2005. Libertad, the main character, is in the Mexicali Penal Institution in Mexico¾the exact reason is unknown. Through a book club she starts there, she tells her life story. She was raised by her father as a trucker, her mother having died when she was a baby. Her parents met when González (her dad) illegally went into the United States from Mexico. Libertad learned all she knows from him, and loves to read and write. She has her mother¿s green eyes, and her father¿s deep skin tone. Her father is paranoid, and when Libertad starts to like a man named Martin, he pulls them apart. Libertad runs away, trying to reach Martin again, and all pandemonium breaks loose. The theme of the story is the bonds of family and friends. Many bonds are tested throughout the story through loss and various obstacles. This includes the relationship between Libertad and her father, Martin, and her fellow inmate Maciza. Quarrels with her dad, and separation from Martin test their bonds, and Maciza defending Libertad in prison shows their friendship. Libertad has a very important role in this story. She helps many people out, such as her father. When her father lost her mom, he turns to her to give his life structure and reason. Her father was a very paranoid man, and Libertad does what it takes to help him get through his worries of being sent back to Mexico. She also brings happiness to her inmates. Through the library club, many prisoners find joy in listening to Libertad¿s story. The story is all about her life, making her extremely significant. This book was extremely fun to read. Usually, books are hard to get through, leaving me bored and not wanting to read on. The ends of the chapters got me hooked into reading more, such as when Libertad and Diva, an inmate, are about to get caught using the scissors in the warden¿s office. ¿But the most immediate problem was only a few feet away¿A punishment, a tough one, was coming.¿ Second, I enjoyed some of the humor woven into the book. Once, after González discovers a bug in Libertad¿s mouth as a baby, he said to her, ¿Well I guess that was your protein for the day.¿ Then he proceeds to forget the diapers for Libertad that were airing out on trees, simply leaving them there for someone else to discover. The book also told a great, informative story. It has a different take on the illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States, and a look into the life of a trucker. Through all these things, it was difficult to put the book down. I learned about different ways of life and loss. Libertad is put through a loss of a mother. Simply imaging not having a mother is astonishing and seems nearly impossible. The life of a trucker is also explained, but not always in a good light. It is tedious, and sometimes takes you away from your family and friends for long periods of time. The illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States is also spoken about. It creates sympathy for illegal immigrants, because González is one. What he was running away from is terrible. After all, if he hadn¿t crossed illegally, Libertad would not exist, for González would never meet Virginia. This book helped me have a better understanding of different perspectives, life styles, and losses. I would recommend this book. I would suggest it to someone with an open mind, and who is mature. Some parts of the book are graphic and inappropriate for immature readers. Anyone into adventure would love this book, as it a life on the road and in a Mexican prison.
Bravo, Bravo, Bravo, What a display of creativity, style and sense of humor, great read, great discussion for book club in Cincinnati Ohio, extremely enjoyable. Can not wait to read the next one, 'CarCass' Una vez mas, Bravo paisana!!
I've waited a long time for this, Escandon's second book, sure that it would be every bit as wonderful as her first. And it didn't disappoint! Both her books call for two readings - the first because you absolutely can't put it down the first time, and the second because you want more time to savor every single word, every single character, every single allusion. If you haven't read 'Esperanza's Book of Saints' - her first - do so before you tackle a second reading of Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking. You will find a joyful surprise in the latter book that you wouldn't catch if you missed her first one. Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking was worth the long wait. Bravo, Maria Amparo Escandon!
A tale so eloquently told... I don't know if I cried because of how it ended or because it ended. It provides a poignant look at a relationship between an insightful, intelligent, and naive young woman and her loving, yet paranoid father. It raises questions about what happens when fathers are forced to raise their daughters alone, and provides possible answers.
Loved the main characters, loved the quirkiness of the life on the road, the life in the surrealistic Mexican prison and the diverse ways of telling the story and loved staying late until I could find out what happened. Hated that it ended, Very highly recommended.