Imagine making a little girl hideously ugly, blackening her teeth with a sharpie, cutting her long flowing hair brutally short so she’ll pass for a boy. In fact, imagine telling everyone she is a boy. Then imagine you’ve done all these things out of a deep love.
In Jennifer Clement’s powerful novel ‘Prayers for the Stolen’ that is exactly what happens. Set in a Mexico were gangsters come and steal pretty girl children to become prostitutes, the novel quickly establishes the stakes for being a girl are life and death.
Femininity has been banished from a land where women have been abandoned by their men. Raped, beaten and cheated on if you ever wondered why there was a need for a radical feminism, modern day Mexico shows you why.
Based on the reality of Jennifer Clement’s own interviews with Mexican women who have suffered at the hands of cartels, the novel is told from the perspective of Ladydi, a teenage girl named for a famous woman cheated on by her husband who even admitted he’d never even loved her.
Her beautiful childhood friend Paula is stolen by a cartel led by the vicious McClane and sooner or later we sense that Ladydi will suffer the same fate.
Her clear, honest voice grounds us through the surreal trials and unholy terrors of the plot to a kind of redemption. Hope even. Naturally given the appealing callousness and violence by the men in the novel this is provided by women. However lurking in the darkness is the ever present threat of violence against women.This is summed up in the last lines of the novel when Ladydi admits to her mum that she is pregnant. Her mother’s answer is unsurprising considering what we have witnessed “Just pray it’s a boy”.