Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

bringbackourgirlsStolen women. It sounds like an oxymoron, as if those two words cancel each other out, they should not go together, it should not exist.

In the last month the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has raised awareness of the plight of stolen girls and women, the kidnapping of 200 high school girls from a boarding school in Nigeria bringing our attention to the proliferation of crimes that exist concerning the stealing or kidnapping of women. Modern day slavery. That it took so long for the story to come to the attention of the media and politicians disgusted many, making women feel like many third world countries feel – unimportant, insignificant, forgotten.

prayers for the stolenPrayers for the Stolen is the story of a girl named Ladydi, born in the mountain village of Guerrero in Mexico, what was once a real community, until it was ruined by the toxic effect of drug traffickers and immigration to the United States.

“Our angry piece of land was a broken constellation and each little home was ash.”

In this community families pray to give birth to sons, for daughters are cursed with everything that will mark them with the potential to become stolen. From a young age they blacken their faces and teeth, cut their hair short and their mothers clothe them as and tell people they are boys. They dig holes in the ground outside where they live and tell the girls to run and hide when they hear the big SUV’s with blackened windows approaching.

And when they hear the army helicopter, they run even faster, for it contains an even more deadly menace.

Ladydi lives alone with her mother, her father is working in the US. In the beginning he sent money but not now, some even say he has another family. Her mother plots her revenge against him daily, she has been doing so for a long time, before he even left she was consumed with vengeance, the naming of her daughter was one of her first acts of revenge.

Ladydi is friends with Maria, saved by a birth defect and Paula cursed by being born not just a girl, but a too beautiful one.

After eight years of waiting, doctors come to operate for free on children with deformities. Maria’s mother is reluctant to transform her daughter.

“Three army trucks were parked outside the clinic and twelve soldiers stood watch…

On one of the trucks someone had tacked a sign that said: Here doctors are operating on children.

These measures were taken so that the drug traffickers wouldn’t sweep down and kidnap the doctors and take them off.”

Maria’s brother Mike was the only boy on the mountain and as such indulged and spoiled, though now he is not often around, too busy, he turns up occasionally and his appearance changes noticeably over time. He has contacts and may be able to find Ladydi a job looking after the children of a well off family. Are her fortunes about to change?

I found this book a riveting read right from the first pages. It seems like an incredible story and yet it is clear that there are threads of truth running through the narrative, a terrible insight into the human trafficking trade. And despite the seriousness and tragic nature of the issues it deals with, it is not without humour and you can’t help but empathise with each of the female characters she so skilfully weaves together. We sense that their time together is limited but there are numerous memorable incidents that stay with the reader and endear us to this unique community of lost souls.

“A human being you can sell many, many times, whereas a bag of drugs you can sell once,” Clement, who has lived in Mexico since she was a year old, explains. “The trafficking of women is so horrific. You’d think that in this day and age there would be more equality and more fairness, and from what you see, it’s just not true.”

– Extract from interview by Stacey Bartlett

Jennifer Clement

Jennifer Clement

Jennifer Clement, in addition to writing four books of poetry, two novels and a work of non-fiction, was President of PEN Mexico for three years, where she investigated the killing of journalists (a crime no one has ever gone to prison for despite 75 being killed in the last decade). Her book is yet another way to raise awareness of the plight of women who are unable to speak out for themselves and she is a believer that literature can indeed change the world.

The book was inspired by the real village of Guerrero where poppy fields and heroin labs are hidden from view and Clement spent ten years researching the impact of drug and human trafficking on Mexican women. It is estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year and that doesn’t include what goes on within national borders.

Prayers for the Stolen was a 5 star read for me, highly recommended.

Further Reading:

Interview – Stacey Bartlett’s excellent interview with Jennifer Clement

Review – New York Times book review by Gaby Wood

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley.





32 thoughts on “Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

  1. I’m torn by this book. Your review makes me want to read it, and the horror of the subject matter makes me not want to read it. That women and girls are captured and sold like that, passed around like “a swig of water” (from the NYT review) is almost unimaginable. Yet it is happening everywhere, and from as far as I know, so little is still being done to stop it. So I feel I must read it, if only to not shrink from a natural inclination to turn away, close my eyes, and not think about it.


    • It’s a great read Deborah and handled brilliantly, it raises the issue without making us have to experience it in a way that turns people off. We are aware of the danger and the tension of living as these women do, but it does seem about time that this issue came out more into the open given the significant numbers of women and children affected annually.

      I am really happy to have stumbled across Jennifer Clement and definitely want to read more of her work, not just a writer she is an incredible ambassador for human rights.


  2. Excellent review, especially the tie to current events. I hope to get to this before the end of the month. You may want to read, A Walk Across the Sun, another gripping fiction account of human trafficking.


  3. Great review! Sounds like a massively powerful read, especially given the recent publicity. I think I find the fact about the killing of journalists almost as shocking as the people-trafficking.


  4. Great review, Claire. This one sounds like a very powerful and heartbreaking read. As you say, very timely in light of current events in Nigeria. Fiction can often shine a light on these atrocities, bringing them to the attention of a wider audience.


    • It’s a great read Jacqui and I’m glad I acted on an impulse to read it, the combination of a successful writer/poet and her long experience working within the field of human rights was too promising not to indulge. And then the events in Nigeria came to light making it a subject people and the media were forced to talk about.


  5. Great review, Claire. Powerful and moving. And timely in view of the missing girls in Nigeria. An unfortunate and senseless act, to say the least. The Nigerian govt dragged its feet in going to the aid of these girls; the whole Boko Haram business has been left too long and now it has sprouted roots!


    • Thank you Celestine, yes it seems as if the lack of initial response to the terrible kidnapping in Nigeria is endemic of the inertia that exists around this issue, the fact that so few people know that this happens on such a wide scale and that when it does, it is little reported. In many locations it seems even the police response can be horribly judgmental.

      I think you are right about those sprouting roots, just today it is reported another three villages have been attacked. So frightening for people.


  6. I have this but have been avoiding it, in my cowardly fashion.You’ve made me feel that I should dig it out. As for Nigeria, it seems beyond belief how little the government has done to find the abducted girls. I suspect that readinpleasure is quite right about those roots.


    • Do dig it out Susan, it is a worthy read with great characters despite the sad situation they live in. It certainly makes me want to read more of her work. Great storytelling and a hard working humanitarian at work behind it all. Bravo I say.


  7. Wow, this sounds like a fascinating read and so relevant today. This is a terrifying and real threat that is gaining attention rightfully so. Thank you for bringing this to my attention – I’ll add it to the list!


    • I’m surprised the book hasn’t had more attention either, it’s an excellent story and the timing is interesting, even though it’s something that has been an issue for many years, it has stayed out of the media pretty much. Except when something happens in a wealthy country I guess, I remember when the three women slaves were discovered in a house in South London last year, the shock of discovering how many people are living as slaves in modern societies, because again it is a subject that rarely reaches the media.

      Do read the book, it’s a good story as well.


    • Thank you so much for reblogging my review Patricia, it is an exceptional book and an important issue that Jennifer Clements assists in raising awareness for,by publishing it. It certainly got me reading more widely on the subject and as she says “literature can indeed help save the world”.


    • Thank you Julia for the link to your excellent and informative post, which I would encourage everyone who reads this to click on to learn about one mother Susana Trimarco who has never given up searching for her daughter who was stolen at 23 years old on her way to a medical appointment. The mother’s work has helped release hundreds of other woman, but her search for own daughter continues and that effort was recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2013.


  8. Wonderful review of a fascinating book, Claire. It must have been a difficult read. Can’t believe that such things keep happening today.


    • It is actually a wonderful read Vishy, the perspective of a child character growing up helps us, since children aren’t usually intoxicated by the same fears as adults, so we observe what is happening in a more detached way. I think anticipating reading it is often more difficult than the actual reading itself. We talk ourselves into and out of things that are often not like what we imagine at all.

      I highly recommend it.


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  11. Thank you for bringing this book to my/our attention. I am going to read it. Prior to stories about the kidnapping of the 200 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped last summer, I was only ever aware of the missing women of Juarez in Mexico. After reading your review I think women writers and journalists, women activists, and women readers are the ones who will bring awareness of the trafficking of women and girls to the forefront.


    • Thanks Leslie, as you may have discovered if you read my top reads of 2014, this book was my outstanding read of the year. It is so much more than a great story, I have such admiration for the author and her work and her belief that literature really can change the world. This book is the least of the amazing things she has done to bring awareness of the plight of trafficked women and silenced voices to the world.

      I am so happy to know that you will read it and I hope you will share it with others too.

      You might be interested in this post linked below, that one of our fellow book bloggers Julie, wrote recently on the subject of the girls kidnapped in Nigeria.

      A Voice For the Stolen: Speaking Up For Nigeria

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Cathy, I couldn’t help thinking of this book while reading 2666, two very different books for sure, but I would implore anyone reading 2666 to also read this very important book which has an entirely different purpose and is brilliantly conceived.

      Liked by 1 person

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