Jennifer Clement first came into my consciousness through an article I ripped from the back issue of a writers magazine. I can’t credit the specific source as I have misplaced or discarded the original. Though the article was a profile of several upcoming authors a comment about Jennifer’s latest book (Prayers for the Stolen) was so intriguing I bumped the novel to the top of my to be read list. That’s something I rarely do. I try to be fair and read books in the order I added them recognizing that each one in the stack is a topic that called to me for one reason or the other.
Perhaps I made an exception this time because two characters in my current work in progress are Mexican immigrants who cross the border illegally into the US and start a life filled with the constant dread of being discovered. Jennifer, a Mexican, is of course much closer and more familiar with the issue of desperate young women, those girls who remain in Mexico but are abducted and sold into slavery of one sort or another. Her short but very compelling novel deals with the terror of growing up as a girl in rural Mexico. It is nearly incomprehensible to the average reader on this side of the border. You’d almost think it fantasy. In fact you’d like to think it fantasy and just close the book and let the memory fade away. But there the horror sits and festers.
In getting her story out, Jennifer has done more than write. She has risked her life as she says in an interview on the web. She has dared tell tales (that could have been journalistic pieces with sources and real names) and she believes if she had reported them in a journalistic manner, she’d have been a target and likely killed like other journalists who have attempted the same. Doomed like one of her characters. “She was washed clean, her hair roped into a long black braid that, during the night sleep, had coiled around her neck.” It’s an eerie and uncomfortable image.
Jennifer’s prose is as plain spoken as the people she writes about. In Prayers for the Stolen, it’s the world of a small town where the women are at risk, so much so that the people hide their daughters in holes when the “narcos” come to steal them, a world where the men have left to find jobs in the US.
“Our men 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. In the river they shed their women and their children and walked into the great big USA cemetery…They sent money; they came back once or twice and then that was that.”
In another interview, this time with the UK Telegraph, Jennifer says she hopes “there is a chance that fiction can make a difference.”
As for me, I dig for my own novel’s truth in the written word from newspapers, magazines, and nonfiction, and increasingly in the visual world, videos and still photos, works with disturbing scenes, whether of brutality in the Middle East or the desperation of illegal immigrants crossing the border in the Sonoran desert.
I can only hope that on the one hand my novel raises awareness while engaging a reader half as much as Jennifer’s has raised mine and that on the other this blog post supports Jennifer Clements’ efforts to bring awareness to the deplorable conditions of life in Mexico.
Read more about Jennifer here: jennifer-clement.com