Girls are escorted by soldiers as they walk in Huatla village, Heliodoro Castillo municipality, Guerrero State, Mexico, on August 3, 2013. Huatla is one of 13 villages from where residents have left due to murders, threats and kidnappings by drug cartel members.

Girls are escorted by soldiers as they walk in Huatla village, Heliodoro Castillo municipality, Guerrero State, Mexico, on August 3, 2013. Huatla is one of 13 villages from where residents have left due to murders, threats and kidnappings by drug cartel members.

The state of Guererro, Mexico, is one of the most dangerous places on earth. Poverty and violence abound in an area long ravaged by the drug wars. This is the setting for a new novel by Jennifer Clement, who was born in the U.S. but raised in Mexico. It’s the story of a young girl growing up on a mountain in Guerrero with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. She’s forced to cut her hair and dress like a boy to make her less attractive to marauding drug lords. And she and her friends hide from kidnappers in holes dug by their mothers. Diane talks with Jennifer Clement about her American fiction debut, “Prayers for the Stolen.”

Guests

  • Jennifer Clement author of "A True Story Based on Lies" and former president of PEN Mexico

Read An Excerpt

Reprinted from the book “Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement.” Copyright 2014 by Jennifer Clement. Published by Crown, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Jennifer Clement was born in the U.S., raised in Mexico. Her new book is the story of a young girl growing up in the shadow of drug wars in Guererro, Mexico. It's a terrifying place. Helicopters drop chemicals on opium crops. Mothers dig holes in the yard to hide their daughters from drug lords. The novel was partly inspired by interviews Clement did with inmates at a women's prison near Mexico City. Her new book is titled "Prayers For The Stolen." Jennifer Clement joins me in the studio.

  • 11:07:41

    MS. DIANE REHMAs always, you're welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@WAMU.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to you, Jennifer.

  • 11:08:00

    MS. JENNIFER CLEMENTOh, thank you so much for having me, Diane. It's an honor to be on your show.

  • 11:08:03

    REHMThank you. Well, I'm delighted to have you here. This novel is fiction but it's based on a terrifying situation that I gather young girls truly do live in.

  • 11:08:24

    CLEMENTYes. It's definitely -- Hemmingway talked always about the iceberg of research. So, yes, it's fiction. But there is a great iceberg of research that went into the writing of this book, which took me about 10 years. And more than actually interviewing women, I would call it more like listening and something perhaps closer to friendship than to, sort of, journalism -- that kind of an approach. So it began, at first, with listening to women who were in hiding. And that became very dangerous. And then I also listened to women in the women's jail in Mexico City.

  • 11:09:10

    CLEMENTBut then I also went to Guererro and would do things, for example, like have massages on the beach -- not really because I wanted a massage, but because I wanted to talk to the women about where they were living and what was happening in their communities. And literally the book is born with speaking to one of these women who told me that they were hiding their daughters in holes in the cornfields that they had dug up. And once I heard that image, I couldn't get that image out of me, and spent, you know, a lot of time imagining this reality of hiding in holes in the ground.

  • 11:09:54

    CLEMENTAnd it was like a rabbit warren, suddenly -- sort of that image came to my mind.

  • 11:09:55

    REHMTell me a little about your own background and why this came to be of such interest.

  • 11:10:04

    CLEMENTWell, it's hard to know. I have a book called "A True Story Based on Lies," which is about the mistreatment of servants in Mexico. So for some reason I'm drawn to, perhaps, the world of the unprotected. I can't explain exactly why. But this seems to recur in my life. I was also president of PEN Mexico for three years and had to do a lot of work on trying to understand what was happening with the killing of journalists. It's a terrible thing, the killing of journalists in Mexico. So this has sort of been -- these are sort of subjects that are close to my heart and that I'm constantly close to.

  • 11:10:57

    REHMAnd you were born in this country.

  • 11:10:58

    CLEMENTYes.

  • 11:10:59

    REHMYou lived here for how long?

  • 11:11:02

    CLEMENTI only lived here as a baby. We moved to Mexico when I was about a year old. And my sister was born in Mexico. My mother's a painter. She fell in love with Mexico and never wanted to leave and my father felt the same. And so we never left.

  • 11:11:22

    REHMWould you read for us from the start of the novel? I'd like to give our listeners a sense of the compelling portrait you paint.

  • 11:11:39

    CLEMENT"'Now, we make you ugly,' my mother said. She whistled. Her mouth was so close, she sprayed my neck with her whistle spit. I could smell beer. In the mirror, I watched her move the piece of charcoal across my face. 'It's a nasty life,' she whispered. It's my first memory. She held an old cracked mirror to my face. I must have been about five years old. The crack made my face look as if it had been broken into two pieces. The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl. My name is Lady Di Garcia Martinez. And I have brown skin, brown eyes and brown frizzy hair and look like everyone else I know.

  • 11:12:33

    CLEMENTAs a child, my mother used to dress me up as a boy and called me boy. 'I told everyone a boy was born,' she said. If I were a girl, then I would be stolen. All the drug traffickers had to do was hear there was a pretty girl around and they'd sweep onto our lands in black Escalades and carry the girl off. On television, I watched girls getting pretty, combing their hair and braiding it with pink bows or wearing makeup. But this never happened in my house. 'Maybe I need to knock out your teeth,' my mother said.

  • 11:13:03

    CLEMENTAs I grew older, I rubbed a yellow or black marker over the white enamel, so that my teeth looked rotten. 'There's nothing more disgusting than a dirty mouth,' my mother said. It was Paula's mother who had the idea of digging the holes. She lived across from us and had her own small house and field of papaya trees. My mother said that the State of Guerrero was turning into a rabbit warren, with young girls hiding all over the place. As soon as someone heard the sound of an SUV approaching or saw a black dot in the distance, or two or three black dots, all girls ran to the holes.

  • 11:13:47

    CLEMENTThis was the State of Guerrero. A hot land of rubber plants, snakes, iguanas and scorpions -- the blond, transparent scorpions, which were hard to see and that kill. Guerrero had more spiders than anyplace in the world, we were sure, and ants -- red ants that made our arms swell up and look like legs. 'This is where we are proud to be the angriest and meanest people in the world,' mother said. When I was born, my mother announced to her neighbors and to people in the market that a boy had been born. 'Thank God a boy was born,' she said.

  • 11:14:22

    CLEMENT'Yes. Thank God and the Virgin Mary,' everyone answered, even though no one was fooled. On our mountain, only boys were born. And some of them turned into girls around the age of 11. Then these boys had to turn into ugly girls, who sometimes had to hide in holes in the ground. We were like rabbits that hid when there was a hungry stray dog in the field -- a dog that cannot close his mouth and its tongue already tastes the fur. A rabbit stomps its back leg and this danger warning travels through the ground and alerts the other rabbits in the warren.

  • 11:15:03

    CLEMENTIn our area, a warning was impossible since we all lived scattered and too far apart from each other. We were always on the lookout though and tried to learn to hear things that were very far away. My mother would bend her head down, close her eyes and concentrate on listening for an engine or the disturbed sound that birds and small animals made when a car approached. No one had ever come back. 'Every girl who had been stolen never returned or even sent a letter,' my mother said. Not even a letter. Every girl, except for Paula. She came back one year after she'd been taken."

  • 11:15:53

    REHMJennifer Clement, reading from her new novel, "Prayers for the Stolen." This is the first novel published here in the United States. Just beautiful.

  • 11:16:05

    CLEMENTThank you, Diane. Thank you.

  • 11:16:06

    REHMReally, really beautiful. How does Lady Di get her name?

  • 11:16:10

    CLEMENTWell, it's a funny thing. In Mexico, these names are out in the world. And you go to rural areas and they actually name their daughters or the sons -- recently there was a gas explosion and many people died. And I was reading the list of the people that had died. And I came across Ben Hur Betas (sp?). So it's a quite common thing. And when I met a few Lady Di's, which in Spanish is Lady Dee, in Mexico. I just thought it was just so incredible and just the oxymoron of the princess. And the novel gets into that a little bit...

  • 11:16:49

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:16:49

    CLEMENT...of why she's called Lady Di.

  • 11:16:52

    REHMLady Di and her mother live in kind of a dirt-floor hut; whereas, Paula and her mother live in a perfectly lovely house. Why the difference, when they both -- they all live on the side of the mountain?

  • 11:17:20

    CLEMENTWell, it would depend. A lot of these communities in Mexico depend on remittances that are sent from the United States. So some people are getting more and some people are getting less. And in many cases, they might get money sent from the United States for a while. But, after some time, the men that have come here may establish new families and have new children, and then forget about the families in Mexico. And this is a very tragic part of my book -- is understanding these communities that are filled with women who have lost their men, often to illegal immigration to the United States. And they don't come back.

  • 11:18:04

    REHMAnd that is what has happened here with Lady Di's father. He has walked out and not returned.

  • 11:18:10

    CLEMENTAnd not returned. So, in Paula's case, perhaps they're getting more money. And certainly in the case of Stephanie, another friend, they're getting a lot more money.

  • 11:18:22

    REHMJennifer Clement, her new book is titled "Prayers For The Stolen." It is a novel. Short break here. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-433-8850. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:20:01

    REHMWelcome back. My guest in the studio is Jennifer Clement. Her books have been widely published around the world, but this, "Prayers For the Stolen," is her first novel that's been published in this country. And I'm wondering why, Jennifer.

  • 11:20:25

    CLEMENTWell, Diane, I really don't know. It's a mystery. Certainly "A True Story Based on Lies" was a finalist for the Orange Prize in the UK and has been published in many, many countries. And in fact, Mexico's National Theater Company has turned it into a play and it's going to be performed in September. And then it's going to be taken to Scotland to the big festival in Edinburgh in 2015. So I don't know exactly why this has happened.

  • 11:20:59

    CLEMENTBut I'm so happy now that Hogarth has really bet on this book and they love it. And of course, I'm always sort of accompanied by Virginia Woolf having a publishing house called Hogarth. So that's very special.

  • 11:21:15

    REHMIt's a good omen.

  • 11:21:16

    CLEMENTYes.

  • 11:21:17

    REHMAnd here is the first Tweet. "Has the book "Prayers For the Stolen" been translated into Spanish?" Did you write this in Spanish or did you write it in English?

  • 11:21:31

    CLEMENTI wrote the book in English. I almost always write in English. I went to a British school in Mexico where in those days there was -- the British school was only in English. The German school was only in German. The French school was only in French. That has changed, thank goodness. But -- so I feel most comfortable in English. But I did -- in all my works, I've worked very closely with the translator. I'm completely bilingual and so it's always sort of a collaboration of translating it into Spanish.

  • 11:22:05

    REHMTell us about the 13-year-old Lady Di, the young hero of the book. What is her life like?

  • 11:22:17

    CLEMENTWell, I think it's important for future readers to know that even though this book is about a very heavy subject, I think that the reason why it's readable is because I'm always very interested. And this is true in most of what I write for some reason. I'm interested in the way the sacred and the profane coexist, or a beauty and ugliness coexist. And so this is a very important part of her story that we do see the beauty and the ugly and the divine and the profane.

  • 11:22:53

    CLEMENTSo her voice, it's -- the whole book is in her voice and her voice just came to me in that mysterious way that happens.

  • 11:23:02

    REHMReally.

  • 11:23:04

    CLEMENTYeah, and so she sort of came to me and I felt this voice that was not sentimental and that was not judgmental and that this complete profound acceptance that nobody cares about me and nobody ever will. And the acceptance of that just really sort of took hold of me. And I think that's what one senses as one reads it, that she's not looking for an NGO or a place for shelter.

  • 11:23:43

    REHMShe's an extraordinarily observant child. Wherever she looks she sees, she absorbs. She sees the young girl with a hair-lip. She realizes that the young girl is going to have an operation at one of the free hospitals. What does she think about that child?

  • 11:24:16

    CLEMENTWell, in those kinds of communities -- those kinds of deformations that we understand in our western modern world are -- why they occur -- in those kinds of communities it's often related to a superstitious feeling. So there was -- in the book there's a superstition that surrounds this defect that she's born with. So even though she does get operated on, they all know it's there and they know that it's a mark of God. And as the book progresses, this character's name is Maria. And I think she is marked by God. And somehow the hair-lip has actually become something very beautiful in a way.

  • 11:25:02

    REHMAnd in that first passage you read to us, it's clear that Lady Di's mother has an alcohol and perhaps even drug addiction. She's very troubled. Why?

  • 11:25:24

    CLEMENTShe is very troubled because the man that she loved stopped...

  • 11:25:30

    REHM...adored...

  • 11:25:30

    CLEMENT...adores...

  • 11:25:31

    REHM...adored.

  • 11:25:32

    CLEMENT...stopped loving her. And she just cannot reconcile that. It just kills her. And there's a part of the book where she talks about how she can't even listen to music anymore. She can't bear love songs. So, yeah, I mean, her pain is the loss of her man in a big way.

  • 11:25:56

    REHMAnd somehow that loss of her man, even though clearly she wants to protect her child, prohibits her from showing love to her child.

  • 11:26:15

    CLEMENTThat's interesting. Maybe yes. Maybe that's why.

  • 11:26:21

    REHMIt's as though it's gotten so -- her soul has become so damaged by the loss of her husband that all she can think about is putting herself out of her own misery.

  • 11:26:41

    CLEMENTI think an important side of that pain is that she's a great believer in revenge. And so the other side of the coin of the pain is that she is committing acts of revenge. And there's one point where Lady Di says when Lady Di herself has an act of revenge in a situation and she says, ah my mother would be so proud of me. And her mother has a whole philosophy of revenge, that the person that you are avenging doesn't even have to really know. And of course Lady Di's name is an embodiment of revenge.

  • 11:27:21

    REHMLady Di's name is an embodiment of revenge. Say more about that.

  • 11:27:29

    CLEMENTWell, at one point Lady Di, even when somebody asks her, why are you called that she said, and I didn't want to tell him because I didn't want to break my own heart. And that's because her father doesn't know that Lady's Di's mother is so angry at what Prince Charles did to Lady Diana with Camilla, she can't bear it. And she sees Lady Di as a kind of a saint, the saint of women who have lived through infidelity. And so even her name is a reflection of her pain and her revenge against this man that she adores.

  • 11:28:10

    REHMJennifer Clement and her book -- her new novel, the first published in the U.S. is titled "Prayers For the Stolen." Heroin has been a huge factor in this country and growing addiction, and then most recently with the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death. How much of a grip does the heroin trade have on Mexico and what's happening there?

  • 11:28:47

    CLEMENTWell, the statistics that just came out is that there was an increase of 71 percent last year of heroin coming from Mexico into the United States in the year before. This may have to do with things that are happening in Afghanistan as well. But certainly Guererro is the part of Mexico where the tremendous heroin labs are up in the hills and where it's being grown and where they've even done some sort of cross pollination to produce poppies that are white so that they can't be seen from the air.

  • 11:29:21

    CLEMENTAnd it's a very scary place. I'm sure that in the United States you've read in the news at times about these bad decapitations and of bodies hanging from bridges. This happens in -- it happens in other places but it happens in Guererro, especially on the old road from Mexico City to Acapulco, which is the road I used to take all the time as a child.

  • 11:29:43

    REHMReally.

  • 11:29:44

    CLEMENTI'm very familiar with Guererro. And in fact, I mean, it was a very comfortable place for me to be in to write about because, I mean, I have so much history with that state. For example, when Kennedy was killed I was in Acapulco and Guererro. And one of my first memories is seeing my parents listening to the radio in the car and crying. And then I was even in Acapulco when Howard Hughes died. And a whole Mexican army descended on Acapulco.

  • 11:30:13

    CLEMENTSo I have a rich history of that state so I know that highway really well. And now that highway is very dangerous and it's the highway where the labs are. And I spoke to many women who live in those communities. So I was able to explore that, although I couldn't go there because, as one of the women said to me, you can only go by invitation or you get killed.

  • 11:30:40

    REHMAnd I would think you would probably not even want an invitation.

  • 11:30:46

    CLEMENTIt would be quite frightening, yes.

  • 11:30:47

    REHMIt would be quite frightening. You mentioned in the reading you did Lady Di's friend Paula. And I'm not going to give away too much of the novel, but there comes that moment where Lady Di's mother does hear the cars coming. And Lady Di is hidden in one of these holes. And the drug dealers come to the door and say, we know you have a daughter and we want her. And she says, no I do not have a daughter. She's not here. Nobody's here.

  • 11:31:39

    REHMAnd what happens but instead the drug dealers kidnap the prettiest girl in the village who happens to be Paula. That must engender a great deal of guilt in Lady Di. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Would you imagine?

  • 11:32:12

    CLEMENTI think -- I hadn't actually thought of that before but I think that everybody knew she was really beautiful.

  • 11:32:22

    REHMYes.

  • 11:32:23

    CLEMENTAnd so...

  • 11:32:23

    REHMMore beautiful than...

  • 11:32:25

    CLEMENT...than Jennifer Lopez, that's right. And in fact at one point, Lady Di says, you know, she was the most beautiful girl in Mexico. So I think for me there's a sense in the community that they were really looking for her always, that they had arrived at the wrong house to get Lady Di, that they were really looking for Paula. And in fact, had been watching her grow like a fruit on a tree to go and pick her. So that was sort of my feeling more than the guilt of not being taken.

  • 11:32:58

    REHMAnd how much did that truly happen, or does it even now?

  • 11:33:06

    CLEMENTIt does happen. It's tremendous. I mean, I was just in Veracruz to give a reading. And as soon as sort of this subject appears I'm suddenly surrounded by all these mothers. And there was a protest last May on Women's Day of mothers at the cathedral in Jalapa where they put -- they lined up pairs of shoes of their daughters' who had been stolen. And it was just the most heartbreaking thing to see these little shoes lined up on the stairs of the cathedral.

  • 11:33:41

    CLEMENTAnd I remember one of these pairs of shoes, which would've been for maybe an eight-year-old girl used from their little closets or drawers. And one mother had put a sign behind the shoes that said, you took her alive. Bring her back alive. So it's a big problem.

  • 11:34:00

    REHMWhat do the police do if anything?

  • 11:34:03

    CLEMENTWell, this is a whole huge other subject, but basically the police are very often involved. I mean, one of the things in my pen work, for example, that I tried to help happen and it still hasn't happened, is to try and make, for example, the killing of a journalist a federal crime. Right now it's a state crime and it makes it very difficult because very often it's the actual state government or state police that has killed a journalist. And so they are investing their own crime.

  • 11:34:37

    CLEMENTAnd this also happens with the stealing of women and all kinds of other kinds of crimes. So for these mothers, they know that the very last place they can go to is the police. And even with some of the families that I spoke to who were wealthy that had daughters stolen, discussed the impossibility of going to the police.

  • 11:35:01

    REHMAnd for the most part, do these daughters never come back?

  • 11:35:08

    CLEMENTWell, this one case of a very wealthy family from Sonora that's historically a place where a lot of the big drug families have lived for generations, they got a -- she was stolen literally off the street coming out of the cinema. And the son of a drug trafficker had seen her and really like her and decided she was for him. And so she was picked up off the sidewalk and they received a phone call saying, if you ever want to see your daughter again you just stay quiet.

  • 11:35:42

    CLEMENTAnd about three years later they called and they said, you can now see your daughter. And she had to come, married to this man, with his children and they had to receive this man in their home as if he were a son-in-law. But it was the only way to ever see their daughter again. And that happened to a wealthy family. So it's not just happening in the -- mostly it's happening in the unprotected rural areas but it can come to happen in this way.

  • 11:36:14

    REHMYou know, years ago my husband and I were in Bogotá. And it was at the height of the drug trafficking going on there in Colombia. And every family with whom we had dinner either out or in their homes, in restaurants had a cadre of guards around them and around us as we dined together. Was the same thing going on?

  • 11:36:55

    CLEMENTIt is. I mean, with the very wealthy families, now they all have bodyguards, and you sense that in the street. But of course with the poor families in the rural areas, they have no protection at all.

  • 11:37:09

    REHMJennifer Clement and when we come back we're going to open the phones so that you can talk directly to her about her book "Prayers For the Stolen." Stay with us.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. Jennifer Clement is here in the studio. We're talking about her new book, the first published here in the United States, though she has been published all over the world. She leads PEN Mexico. Her new book is titled, "Prayers for the Stolen." Let's open the phones. First to Juan, in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air. Juan, are you there?

  • 11:40:38

    JUANYes.

  • 11:40:39

    REHMGo right ahead, sir. Juan, I'm sorry. I'm not hearing you. Okay. I'm sorry. You're breaking up on us. Let's go instead to Matt, in Plano, Texas.

  • 11:40:58

    MATTDiane, good morning. It's a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:41:01

    REHMSurely.

  • 11:41:01

    MATTAnd a wonderful show today.

  • 11:41:02

    REHMIndeed. Thanks.

  • 11:41:03

    MATTYou're welcome. A comment and a question. There's a great movie called, "Not Without My Daughter," that came out in the '80s, starring Sally Fields. And I think it's based on a true story of an American woman marries an Iranian man.

  • 11:41:19

    REHMYes. Right.

  • 11:41:21

    MATTThey move their daughter to Tehran, by the end of the movie they're trying to rescue her out of (unintelligible). It's a great movie. I hope people will go and see it. My question to her is about human trafficking. I went to a seminar recently where a lady spoke about the unspeakable things that you're talking about in (unintelligible), but she made it very clear that this is not just foreign countries. This is happening in America. She told a story about a young girl who was kidnapped from a truckstop in Wichita. My heart just (unintelligible). But my question to you is how common is this, underground, in the United States?

  • 11:42:01

    CLEMENTFirst, I just would like clear up. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a human rights expert. So I approach all this as a novelist and as a creator. So some of these questions I'm probably not the exact right person to reply. But what I can say is that one thing that's become very clear is that the drug traffickers realize that you can sell a bag of drugs once, but you can sell a woman many, many, many times. So the sort of criminal aspect has not entered all kinds of other areas, including extortion, debt bondage, using people for labor.

  • 11:42:46

    CLEMENTAnd yes, the United States, I think that all of us know what happened last weekend with the Super Bowl in New Jersey. They uncovered a huge trafficking ring. And apparently any time there's a Super Bowl all these trafficked women appear in all the hotels around wherever the Super Bowl is happening. I mean that was just in the news. So, yes, I think it's a shared problem that we all need to care about and solve.

  • 11:43:13

    REHMAll right. To Karen, in Baltimore, Md. You're on the air.

  • 11:43:19

    KARENThank you, Diane. First I have to tell you that you are both a national treasure and an integral part of my daily life.

  • 11:43:26

    REHMI'm glad. Thank you so much.

  • 11:43:29

    KARENAnd it sounds like this novel belongs in that genre of fiction which bears witness to terrible truths. And I feel that one of the truths is that the truth is that many of us want our drugs and I guess, collaterally, we want our sex, and that for me it highlights the need to another reason why to consider decriminalization because I think a lot of the appetite for this in the United States is driving a lot of this horror south of our borders. And I will give you a personal anecdote. Both my sons are in their 20s, both smoke marijuana periodically. They don't have major drug problems, but they do smoke marijuana.

  • 11:44:08

    KARENAnd I've told them, I said, "Unless you grew this stuff yourselves, unless you know who grew it and saw them grow it, you have no idea whether you're indirectly or directly supporting this kind of terrible thing that goes on in the world." And I'm going to tell them again when they come home from school today, from college.

  • 11:44:25

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:44:26

    KARENYou really have to think about what goes in the world and how you contribute to it.

  • 11:44:30

    REHMIndeed. Thank you, Karen, for your comments. Jennifer?

  • 11:44:35

    CLEMENTWell, again, I'm not expert on the subject, but I think it's pretty clear that these problems are shared problems between the United States and Mexico. And it includes the drugs and it includes the trafficking of people for various reasons. And also I have to add the guns. I mean the guns that are going into Mexico is a huge subject. I've actually written about that subject. So yes, it's a shared problem and I can only speak personally. I agree. I think that drugs should be decriminalized and that drugs should be considered a health problem. And that would be, I think, a good thing to have happen.

  • 11:45:22

    REHMHere's a tweet. "Is any part of Mexico safe?"

  • 11:45:30

    CLEMENTWell, that's a good question. The problem that's happening in Mexico with the killing of journalists is that we now have whole areas of the country where the news is not being reported. It's either been censored by bullet, that these journalists have been killed, or self-censorship because they're scared. There are newspapers that have come out and said we will only cover parties and baptisms and the crime page is no longer going to be part of our newspaper. So immediately that means that democracy is at stake. If we don't know what's happening, we can't have a democracy.

  • 11:46:06

    CLEMENTSo I'm not even really able to answer that question, because there's so many areas we don't even know what's happening.

  • 11:46:13

    REHMBut you live in Mexico. Is the area where you live safe?

  • 11:46:20

    CLEMENTI live in Mexico City. And for now I feel safe in Mexico City. There are the dangers that one would have in any large city, but there are enormous areas of Mexico that I would never go to, that I used to go to all the time.

  • 11:46:38

    REHMHere's another tweet, "Digging holes, hiding women in Mexico is nothing new. It happened during the Mexican Revolution."

  • 11:46:51

    CLEMENTYes, that's true. It did happen in the Mexican Revolution.

  • 11:46:55

    REHMAnd does it still go on, the hiding?

  • 11:47:02

    CLEMENTOh, yes. I think it's worse than ever, yeah. I mean the statistics of last year from the Mexican government was that the kidnapping -- and the kidnapping implies ransom, whereas stealing is they're just taken -- has gone up 32 percent since 2012. And the highest number is in Guererro. And they imagine that we're already at something like 112,000 people kidnapped last year.

  • 11:47:31

    REHMTo James, in Stafford, Va. You're on the air.

  • 11:47:36

    JAMESHi, Diane.

  • 11:47:38

    REHMHi, there.

  • 11:47:40

    JAMESHow are you doing? Hi, Jennifer. How are you?

  • 11:47:41

    CLEMENTHello.

  • 11:47:44

    JAMESGood. My question is about your novel. And you know there's so much going on here I definitely want to read it. That's going to happen. But I'm not an expert in writing a novel. I just want to ask you, are you generally leading toward a climax of some -- without giving away too much information over the radio, but -- and then you have a parallel with Lady Di and the Royal Family and how she was treated. And I'm trying to figure out is that more of where you're leading toward in the climax, or the fact that you've done investigative journalist work and you're trying to expose more of that problem in Mexico.

  • 11:48:28

    REHMJennifer?

  • 11:48:30

    CLEMENTYou've asked a very complicated question because you're really touching on the mystery of creation. And so it's hard for me to answer exactly. I can say that her voice came to me and then she sort of led me forth. I did go to Guererro many times to see things, to make sure I had it right. Also the book is divided into three parts. So the first part takes place in a little community outside of Chilpancingo, which I know very well that sort of area. Then the part two takes place in the very once glamorous port of Acapulco. And that part of the novel touches on a kind of a glamour.

  • 11:49:15

    CLEMENTAnd then the third part of the book takes place in the women's prison in Mexico City, where I spent a lot of time listening to women. So you're talking about the creative process. So it's hard to answer exactly how it works, except just to say that there's a lot of research combined with a voice, a very strong voice that took hold of me.

  • 11:49:41

    REHMJennifer Clement. And her new novel, the first published here in the United States, is titled, "Prayers for the Stolen." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Aiden, who says, "Has the author come upon a popular saint called Holy Death or Santa Muerte, which is precisely a combination of the divine and the ugly?"

  • 11:50:20

    CLEMENTOh, yes. I've come across him many, many times. He would be a kind of -- in the United States I guess the grim reaper. And he actually has a reaper. And he's become the saint of the drug traffickers and the criminals. And so actually it's very scary when you bump into this Santa Muerte. I'm happy to say I think it's a good thing -- finally the Catholic Church came out against this saint last year. I think it took them a long time to do so, but I think it's good that they did so.

  • 11:50:59

    REHMTo Washington, D.C., and to Christian. Hi there.

  • 11:51:06

    CHRISTIANHi. Thank you for taking my call. Thank you so much.

  • 11:51:07

    REHMSure.

  • 11:51:09

    CHRISTIANI want to say something before my question. I'm from Chile, in South America. Twenty years ago I spent an amazing three weeks in Mexico. I went to Acapulco, Guadalajara and Mexico City. And I found that people over there are extremely nice, polite and so friendly. And 20 years later I see all this going on in Mexico. What has changed? What happened to the people? It's just the drugs are so powerful to change the people in the country?

  • 11:51:46

    REHMInteresting question.

  • 11:51:49

    CLEMENTYou're right. Mexican people are the most wonderful people in the world. I think so. And so I think that 90 percent of the Mexicans are those wonderful, wonderful Mexicans that you remember and that I actually adore. And I think that in my book you are with those people, the people that you love and the people that I love. I think any kind of criminal behavior distorts a country. We see that in Italy, for example, in a tremendous way. And there are wonderful Italians, obviously. I'm not sure, but in Mexico we always have this saying that you have to be careful not to awaken el bronco of the Mexican. Mexican does have this very strong side and in Guererro very much so. And they're quite proud of it in Guererro.

  • 11:52:41

    CLEMENTSo I would say the Mexican people are lovely and very special people. I agree.

  • 11:52:49

    REHMWhat portion of the population of Mexico do you believe is involved in the drug trade?

  • 11:53:00

    CLEMENTDo you know, I really don't know the answer to that, but I would suspect it's not an enormous number.

  • 11:53:05

    REHMBut they are…

  • 11:53:06

    CLEMENTBut they have the guns. And they are ruthless.

  • 11:53:11

    REHMAnd they have the money.

  • 11:53:12

    CLEMENTAnd they have the money.

  • 11:53:13

    REHMTo Highpoint, N.C. Catherine, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:21

    CATHERINEYes. My first question is does she plan on making a movie out of this book, since it's gotten so much interest from the public, considering the topic? The second question is -- sorry, I'm out of breath. I was moving. Is she possibly going to donate some of the books to prison systems so that people who are committing these crimes might see the implications beyond what they're doing with the drugs and with trafficking of these females?

  • 11:53:47

    REHMAll right. Catherine, thanks for your call.

  • 11:53:49

    CLEMENTWell, that's a two-fold question. The first, I have to say that today is the launch of the book. It's its first day in the world, the first day in America, here with Diane. So I don't know what's going to happen with the book, but it certainly is a beautiful way to start. And your other question, I would love the book to be given out in prisons. I think that would be wonderful.

  • 11:54:12

    REHMI do, too. I think we have time for one last question from Alicia, in Ft. Lauderdale. Go right ahead.

  • 11:54:26

    ALICIAHi. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:54:27

    REHMSure.

  • 11:54:27

    ALICIAPardon my voice, it's scratchy because I'm a little sick. Earlier a lady called in saying that she felt like the decriminalization of drugs would help stop some of the problems with the undercover drug system, but I was wondering, do you think -- because you agreed with her -- do you think that just drugs in general should be decriminalized or that when people are found doing drugs they shouldn't be jailed? And then I was wondering also, with the sex trafficking, I don't think that prostitution should be legalized because a person's body is just not a commodity. And there's more labor slavery than there is sex slavery. So -- and labor's legal.

  • 11:55:07

    REHMAll right. Let's see what she has to say.

  • 11:55:11

    CLEMENTYeah, it's a lot of questions.

  • 11:55:11

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:55:12

    CLEMENTI guess to answer the first part, again, I'm not an expert on the subject, but I personally think that drugs should be a health issue, not a criminal issue, in every sense. And then in terms of prostitution, I think there is a new way, which is really wonderful for me at least to see, that there's the sense that maybe the prostitute is not the criminal. Maybe the prostitute is the victim. And this is starting -- there's a -- I apologize, I can't remember his name, but a very wonderful judge in New York who is starting to implement sort of courtrooms where this is really addressed. And I think more and more we're starting to see this. And that I think is a good thing.

  • 11:55:56

    REHMDo you see cooperation between the Mexican and U.S. governments on this issue of the taking of children?

  • 11:56:09

    CLEMENTI don't really know. I don't know.

  • 11:56:12

    REHMIt seems so horrendous that young children would be targeted from such an early age, as clearly Paula is. And then at some point simply taken to where we do not know, since many don't come back.

  • 11:56:35

    CLEMENTIn the studies that the United States government has done, they're very clear about sort of figures that they have for trafficking across borders, but it's very unclear about trafficking within the borders of a country.

  • 11:56:51

    REHMJennifer Clement, her new book is titled, "Prayers for the Stolen." Congratulations.

  • 11:57:00

    CLEMENTThank you, Diane. Thank you for having me.

  • 11:57:00

    REHMAnd thanks for being here. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Friday News Roundup – International

Friday, Oct 31 2014Iraqi Kurdish soldiers and Syrian rebels join the battle against ISIS in Kobani, the search continues for missing students in Mexico, and the last U.S. Marines pull out of a key base in Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for a conversation about the week's top international stories.

Friday News Roundup – Domestic

Friday, Oct 31 2014Last-minute campaigning with just days to go before the midterm elections. The Federal Reserve ends its bond-buying program. And debate continues over Ebola quarantines in the U.S. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for a conversation about the week's top national stories.