Book Review: Prayers for the Stolen
Sylvia Aguilar Zeleny reviews Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
“The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl” states Ladydi whose mother cuts Ladydi´s hair too short, boy-like, she even puts some charcoal in her teeth and her face. The mother does whatever is needed to maker her only daughter ugly. Ugly means safe. This is the story of Ladydi García Martínez the protagonist of Prayers for the stolen, a girl who grows up in Guerrero knowing that “all the drug traffickers had to do was hear that there was a pretty girl around and they’d sweep onto our lands in black Escalades and carry the girl off”.
Prayers for the Stolen won the NEA Fellowship in Literature 2012 and it explores one of the most terrifying situations in Mexico: the kidnapping and prostitution of young girls by cartels. Authors like Dorothy Allison in Bastard out Caroline, Heidi W. Durrow in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Wendy Guerra in Everyone leaves, among others, have also taken the risk of using children´s voices to tell stories of stark realities. Jennifer Clement´s is a poignant, poetic and unflinchingly humane narrative of what it is to be violently introduced to adulthood.
Ladydi García lives with her mother, in a mountain with no men because “Our men”, she says, “crossed the river to the United States. They dipped their feet in the water and waded up to their waists but they were dead when they got to the other side”.
Ladydi’s mother is a drunk, harsh, bitter woman who teaches her daughter that in this place, women lose their men, their daughters are stolen, their sons leave. Even the way she teaches her to pray is peculiar: “Don’t ever pray for love and health, Mother said. Or money. If God hears what you really want, He will not give it to you. Guaranteed”. When her father left Ladydi got down on her knees and prayed for spoons.
Jennifer Clement’s foray into the realm of the lyric is evident in the tone and language of the novel and in the creation of the crippling environments that Ladydi, and the characters around her, have faced. In Prayers for the Stolen the author builds a powerful narrative whose images recreate an alarming reality that not everyone has dared to address but that everyone has definitely heard of. Let’s pray, then, for spoons.
Clement, Jennifer. Prayers for the stolen. New York: Hogarth, 2014.