“Prayers for the stolen” by Jennifer Clement is a harrowing read. Based on interviews with Mexican women who have been stolen,forced into prostitution, sold on to other pimps and abused to a degree that you just want to stop listening, she has written the story of Ladydi; a girl living in the one of the poorest areas in Mexico where a woman’s life is worth next to nothing. Her father has gone to the USA to work and her mother is hanging on by a thread(and a beer bottle). To keep her from harm Ladydi is told not to wash and is dressed as a boy as long as she can, to avoid the gaze of the men of the drug cartels. It’s the same for all the girls in the area, but still girls disappear.
The worst horror is always the truth; this sends more shivers done my spine then any Stephan King novel. I’ve read a bit about the situation for women in Mexico and other countries in that area before, and it is often heartbreaking.
Clemente tells the story in a fragmented way, we get snatches of the story. Almost like a stream of consciousness, we follow Ladydi back and forth between the now and then. But it is a very intimate way of telling the story and I think it works, it isn’t too detached or told from a the perspective of a horrified outsider which could have been counter-productive. My point is that we feel with Ladydi, not for her and that is vital I think.
When I was reading this I was reminded of “The underground girls of Kabul” by Jenny Nordberg. if Mexico is a hard place to be a woman then Afghanistan is worse. Nordberg, a Swedish journalist based in New York, has covered the war in Afghanistan and came across a phenomena; girls dressed up and living like they were boys. It is not a new phenomena apparently; if the family has no boys it is thought that dressing one of the girls as a boy is best. Some think that act alone will influence the sex of the next child, others do it to protect the girls themselves. It also has to do with the view that only giving birth to girls is shameful for the mother so to save face, a girl is transformed. It’s called bacha posh.
It’s a very different kind of book; non-fiction and from Afghanistan but there is a commonality obviously; the low worth of a woman’s life and how her honour must be protected. How her behaviour is judged by others in what is essentially a rigged game where women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Nordberg has spent time with several families and tells their stories in a straight forward manner whilst providing some context and background.A very well written book that’s worth the time if you come across it.
Books mentioned in this post;