Jaguar's Children
by Vaillant, John

A man trapped inside a tanker truck during an illegal border crossing reflects on the trials of his life in Oaxaca and the events leading to his present circumstances while fellow passengers and he desperately wait for rescue.

Vaillant, the author of two widely praised and best-selling nonfiction works, The Golden Spruce (2005) and The Tiger (2010), turns to fiction with this searing story of an illegal immigrant abandoned in the Arizona desert. After the truck breaks down and the guides go off in search of help, Hector uses his unconscious friend Cesar's cell phone to text and send sound files to AnniMac, the only person in Cesar's directory with a U.S. number. Hector details the nightmarish, rapidly deteriorating condition of the 14 Mexicans trapped with him and talks about his life in rural Oaxaca. In a narrative heavily woven through with Spanish phrases, Hector pours out his anguish and weaves a rich tale of his family's hard life, which touches on his ancestors' worship of the jaguar, archaeological expeditions in the region, the dangers of genetically modified corn, and his father's burning desire that his son go to el norte in search of better opportunities. Vaillant's timely first novel captures both the straitened circumstances of hardworking campesinos and the humanity and raw desperation of a man slowly giving in to hopelessness. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Vaillant's debut fiction follows Hector Lazaro from Mexico's Sierra Juárez to Oaxaca's el Centro to an old tanker truck poised to sneak into El Norte, the promised land.Because of his abuelo, an old man deeply rooted in Zapotec lands and culture, Hector carries an elemental connection to Oaxaca, a place somewhat Spanish but mostly Indio. But dreaming of El Norte, Hector's father took his son into the U.S. for a few years, until la Migra found them. Home in Mexico, Hector earned his way into college, but his father kept insisting Hector head north, saying of Oaxaca, "[n]othing is changing in five hundred years." Now Hector's on the border, but it's only because he tried to help his childhood friend Cesar, ending up pursued by the federales because Cesar has a secret. Now the friends, and other desperate migrants, are trapped in an abandoned tanker truck, "smelling like the intestine of some animal, slowly digesting us." Cesar has a head injury, and Hector has a bit of wat er and Cesar's cellphone with one American contact, AnniMac, but no signal. Vaillant's tension-filled narrative has Hector relating his story into a sound file, all while meditating on "the distance between Hope and God and Death growing smaller until it is impossible to tell one from the others." As Hector tends to comatose Cesar, his deep and poignant story unfolds, covering his early life and his chance encounter with Cesar, whose research discovered clandestine information about KØrtez400, a GMO seed, which left Cesar pursued by murderous government bureaucrats. With superb minor characters like Don Serafín, "a rich and powerful chingón," and Hector's abuelo, a man who had his own deep secret linked to 1930s work with an American archaeologist, Hector's reflections on Oaxacan culture fascinate. Vaillant writes with power and emotion, affection and respect for the Zapotec people and lands, a fertile place, where "the corn made possible everything we do and a re," now imperiled by international agribusiness. An eloquent literary dissection of the divide between the United States and Mexico. Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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