Saturday, 13 July 2013

Sam Hawken- The Dead Women of Juarez

Some people may find the subject matter of The Dead Women of Juarez disturbing. It is however a worthy read, though I can't really say I 'enjoyed' it, as I was horrified by many of the events and the narrative is bleak. I finished it earlier this week, had it's been on my mind since. It would make a really good choice for a Book Club, as it's just over 300 pages long, but would provoke discussion.

Trigger Warning: violence towards women, rape, torture, murder

The plot:  Set in a Mexican border town Kelly Courter a washed-up American boxer with an addiction to heroin is accused of murdering his girlfriend. His only defender is Rafael Sevilla, a Mexican detective with a tragic past. On the quest for justice and truth Sevilla is drawn into the corrupt and depraved world of organised crime.

The Dead Women of Juarez is fiction, but since 1993 over 500 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez. The victims are often raped, tortured and mutilated and the conviction rate for these crimes is low. Justice is a key theme of the novel, with an ineffective and corrupt police the city is portrayed as practically lawless.  The violence in the novel is graphic and at times gratuitous.

Kelly is deeply flawed man, he sells and takes drugs, cons tourists and has absconded to Mexico to avoid the police in America. His only redeeming features are his love for Paloma and his loyalty to his friend. Although I sympathised with his guilt and grief over Paloma's death, I also felt he should be held accountable for his earlier crime.

It is also debatable whether Sevilla is a hero or an anti-hero. He participates in vigilante justice and accepts police brutality, but it is perhaps because he has no other choice. It is quite clear from the outset who the perpetrators of the femicides is, which is lucky as Sevilla doesn't seem to be a very good detective. In fairness though, the novel isn't really a detective novel, it is more about social problems and the crime itself, rather than how crimes are solved.  

The main criticism I have with the Dead Women of Juarez is the lack of female characters. I think how the women of the city cope and feel with the epidemic of violence directed towards them should have been included. More attention should have been give to the female activists, as it would have given the narrative more balance, women wouldn't be just be passive victims, but active voices for change and justice. The novel was inspired by two organisations Las Mujeres De Negro (the Women in Black) and Voces Sin Eco (Voices without Echo) so it is frustrating that women in are not given more of a voice.

pink crosses erected by Las Mujeres De Negro  mark the graves of murdered women in Juarez 

 If your interested in social justice or women's rights I'd recommend this book. It introduced me to an issue I was unaware of and I'm really interested to learn more about Las Mujeres De Negro and Voces Sin Eco and the work that they do.

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