The Jaguar’s Children
John Vaillant, 2015
While attempting to illegally cross the Mexico/U.S. border in a sealed water truck, Hector and the others become trapped when the truck breaks down and the coyotes (the men hired to transport them) take off. Slowing dying of thirst, Hector’s one hope is his friend Cesar’s cell phone and an American number he finds in it, listed as AnniMac. There aren’t enough bars to send a message, but Hector begins recording messages for AnniMac, first describing their desperate situation, and then going into detail about how they ended up there in the first place.
This was a difficult book in a lot of ways. For one, the main character is Mexican, so a native Spanish speaker. A lot of the dialogue goes back and forth between English and Spanish. The book is written in English, but there are a few random Spanish words thrown in here and there, some translated, but some not. It adds to the authenticity of the narrative, but also means that it’s not exactly a fast read.
The other reason this book was difficult was because of the subject matter. If you have issues with claustrophobia, this is going to be a tough read. While a lot of the story was Hector giving back story – both about his life and about what Cesar has told him about why he ended up on the run – we are often given little paragraphs here and there about the present situation, which was often difficult to read about. I never wanted to think about what dying of thirst would be like, and now that I’ve read about it, I almost wish I hadn’t. It’s more gruesome than you would think.
That being said, I’m not sorry I read this book. It’s a really well-written story. I thought that Hector was a fantastic narrator. He was likable and empathetic and someone you could really root for, which was needed in such a dire situation. And I loved hearing the stories about his grandfather.
Overall, this was a really good story about Mexican culture, past and present. It’s got the unsettling claustrophobic vibe just under the surface, but it’s not a thriller. It’s mostly a story about people growing up in Mexico and trying to make a better life for themselves. But it is unsettling at times, so read with caution. Not for everybody, but if you can enjoy a slower paced story with some really interesting characters, I recommend it.