My spring break has been a lovely one. I got to turn my state-test riddled work brain off and simply relax, which included the High Line and margaritas, Brooklyn Heights brunch, visiting my parents in Louisville and of course, reading (because I also got to turn my grad-school-brain off). I read my former student teacher Lindsey Palmer’s new book Pretty In Ink (narrated from multiple women’s voices in the post recession magazine industry), a short ghost story called The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill, Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. After spending so long in The Goldfinch (thoughts coming soon), it was nice to have some time to literally get lost in so many stories.
I’ve lamented with some of my friends about the overabundance of novels about privileged, educated people having existential crises–and though I still read them and sometimes enjoy them, I often wonder how it is expanding my world or helping me to know the world as a whole in a better way. It feels easy and relatable to read conflicts that could be my own, but they usually don’t challenge me as a person. Over the summer, Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane opened my eyes to different kinds of fiction, and I would say now that Prayers for the Stolen helped transport me to a completely different and necessary place.
It takes place mostly in Guererro, Mexico, in a village where all of the men have left in search of work in the US and the women are left to survive on little and protect their children from the drug cartels. They cut their daughters’ hair, blacken their teeth, and dress them like boys to prevent them from being stolen. The main character in the story, Ladydi, is saved because laid in a hole her mother dug in the backyard when the cartels came through town. Her story takes her to Acapulco as a nanny, and ultimately jail when her name is wrongly entangled when a murder implicates a friend.
My husband has been reading a book about the Mexican drug cartels, and Prayers for the Stolen is like the perfect companion because alongside the horrific realities a reader obtains from the nonfiction, this fiction tells the story of a hidden population of women, but whose fierce spirits have been forged through survival. About half way through the story, Ladydi’s mother is enraged that a magazine is going to run an issue about what it is to be a woman, but doesn’t believe it will capture anything that is true, be it the existential struggle or the blunt truths of their day to day realities: ” Do you think those Mexico City women writers are going to write about the sadness?” (85).
The answer is a resounding no.
And there it is, again. When my reality is not what these women face, I can so easily get lost in my own plights nonsensical in comparison. And I wonder if, though I can’t directly help, maybe it is the prayers that matter. For all of us.