"The Jaguar's Children" by John Vaillant
Who Should Read This: Anyone interested in stories of different cultures and those who follow current events.
A water truck, stranded in the American desert. It is sealed from the outside to hide its secret.
Inside the truck is human cargo, people who have left their lives behind in Mexico, hoping to make it across the border to America safely. But the truck has broken down and the coyotes have stolen all of their money and the people are left to die.
Among these people are Hector and his friend César. César has the only phone that can make calls out but the signal is low and César now lies unconscious. Hector finds one American number in the phone, a woman named AnniMac, and he knows that their survival depends on his ability to reach her.
For the next four days, Hector records messages to AnniMac, telling her about his home and life in Oaxaca, the story of his family and heritage, and how he came to be in the water truck. Through it all, he shares the ties between Mexico and America and what makes a person risk their life crossing the border.
The Jaguar’s Children, by John Vaillant, is a suspense-filled novel about a current event that is consistently in the news. It explores the relationship between North and South, the connection between the two cultures, and the reasons why people risk all for life in a new land.
I really loved the unique way that Vaillant chose to tell this story. We learn about the lives of Hector and César as Hector sends a series of text messages and sound files to the mystery AnniMac. Through powerful storytelling, we are transported back and forth between their past and present, between the promise of life and the threat of imminent death. This book is an emotional ride.
This is a timely novel dealing with the illegal immigration situation between Mexico and the United States. What we hear of it in the media can make you easily detached from the emotion of the situation. When you can’t understand what propels someone to take those risks, why people put their lives on the line knowing the dangers for a new life, you can’t see the whole picture. While this is a fiction novel, it adds that emotion to the conversation, breaking your heart and leaving you speechless.
It did take me a little bit to become fully gripped by the story, and I definitely found myself more immersed in the second half but it is still a strong story. This isn’t just about crossing the border, it’s about the culture and legends of a people, religion, death, and hope. I really enjoyed the way the topic of genetically modified foods was added into the story.
This is a topic I want to read more of in fiction. It is rich in culture and lore, eye-opening, and packed full of emotion. Vaillant has done a tremendous job of bringing this difficult subject to the page and giving us a different perspective on a heart-breaking topic.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.