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February 13, 2014

Book Notes - Jennifer Clement "Prayers for the Stolen"

Prayers for the Stolen

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jennifer Clement's Prayers for the Stolen is a powerful and unforgettable novel on the plight of "disappeared" young women in Mexico.

The Sunday Express wrote of the book:

"Beautifully written...Clement's prose is luminous and startlingly original. The sentences are spare and stripped back, but brilliantly manage to contain complex characters and intense emotional histories in a few vividly poetic words. Her portrayal of modern Mexico is heartbreaking; a dangerous and damaging environment for women, but her portrait of Ladydi and her refusal to be one of the lost girls is defiantly bold and bravely uncompromising."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Jennifer Clement's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Prayers for the Stolen:


My novel Prayers for the Stolen takes place in Mexico in a community outside of the once glamorous port of Acapulco and tells a story that has never been told. The book follows Ladydi Garcia Martinez and her friends as they try to survive in a world decimated by the immigration to the United States, the violent world of drug traffickers and, most specifically, the stealing of women. Although the book covers a terrible moment in our history, it is a book that is also full of joy and the power of human resilience and love.

My soundtrack opens with the ballad, known in Mexico as corridos, I wrote for the book and is quoted toward the end of the novel. One character says, "If you were quiet about something, then it never happened. Someone would write a song about it for sure. Everything you're not supposed to know about, or talk about, eventually turned up in a song."

The song contains the refrain:

Even dead he's the most powerful man alive.

Many musicians who write narco corridos are close to the cartels, and drug lords commission the songs and, in fact, many of these musicians have even been killed. The lyrics talk about the lives of drug traffickers in heroic terms and praise attributes such as daring and loyalty. They describe constant problems with the Mexican army and border patrol and the challenges of transporting drugs into the USA. I think the classic song in this genre is "The Gold SUV," sung by the hugely popular group Los Huracanes del Norte, which tells the story of a police roadblock. The lyrics relate how the drug traffickers kill all the policemen with their machine guns, and the song ends happily with someone singing of how the vehicle has been spotted in the USA:

A gold suburban
With dark windows
Came from Zacatecas…
They come full of drugs
Going to Colorado.


Los Huracanes del Norte—"La suburban Doradada"


Mike, a low-level drug dealer in Prayers for the Stolen, sells drugs to spring breakers from the USA and tourists in Acapulco. He even has a Facebook page where people can order their drugs before going to Mexico. He listens to music on his iPod and snaps his fingers or shakes his head gently. Even the way he chews his gum has rhythm. Here are three songs he listens to:


Don Omar—"salio el sol"


Calle 13—"Atrevate"


Daddy Yankee—"Gasolina"


Rita, who is the protagonist's mother, is depressed because her husband has immigrated illegally to the United States. She knows he has another family "over there." Because of her sadness, she cannot stand to listen to music. The loss of music in her life is described in the book:

From then on my mother could no longer listen to love songs. Before that night she'd been a songbird. The radio was on all the time and she'd sway, twirl, and spin to Juan Gabriel or Luis Miguel's songs as she cleaned the house, cooked, or ironed my father's white work shirts. From then on the radio was turned off and she just might as well have turned her happiness to off.

Love songs make me feel stupid, she said.

You're not stupid, Mama, I said.

The songs make me feel like I ate too much candy, Coke, ice cream, and cake. The songs make me feel like I've come home from a birthday party.

Once, when we were at Estefani's house, the radio turned to a love song. The melody filled the rooms. My mother panicked and ran out of the house to get away from the song. She threw up under a small orange tree. She threw up the melody, chords, the waltzes, and drums of love. It was pure green love bile on the green ground. I ran after her and held her hair away from her face as she vomited.

Your father killed the music for me, she said.

The songs that follow are songs she cannot bear listen to any longer.


Juan Gabriel—"Querida"


Luis Miguel—"La Barca"


Jose Alfredo—"Si nos dejan"


One section of the book describes a man who has come to teach in the rural community. He does not follow the government's education curriculum but instead has his students listen to classical music:

He only played Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake floated out of our schoolroom, across our jungle, over our homes, hills covered in poppies and marijuana plants, down the black oily highway, and across the Sierra Madre, until the sound of swans dancing covered the whole country.


Tchaikovsky—Swan Lake


Britney Spears is the pop star the young, rural girls in Prayers for the Stolen most admire. In one scene they talk about her:

Don't you feel so sorry for Britney Spears? Paula said.

The long sleeves of Paula's dress were folded over and pushed up. On her left arm, the inside where the skin is pale and thin like guava skin, I could see a row of cigarette burns, circles, polka dots, pink circles.
You know, Paula continued, Britney has many tattoos.

Yes? No, I didn't know.

Oh yes. She has a fairy and small daisy circling her toe.

No, I didn't know.

And she has a butterfly and another flower and a small star on her right hand.

Oh. Really?

Yes. Her body is like a garden.


Britney Spears—"One More Time"


Mr. Garcia, Ladydi's father, is famous for singing all the time. He is a suave, handsome liar. Rita says he thinks he is Frank Sinatra. He sings the songs of Jose Alfredo Jimenez, one of Mexico's great composers in the mariachi style.


Jose Alfredo Jimenez—"Te solte la rienda"


Mr. Garcia also sings songs about Acapulco such as Agustin Lara's song "Maria Bonita."


Agustin Lara—"Maria Bonita"


Ladydi and her mother are affected by programs on television and are obsessed with watching The Sound of Music. So, toward the end of the novel, as the women face the challenge of leaving their home, Rita comforts her daughter by making reference to the movie.


The Sound of Music—"Climb Ev'ry Mountain"


Jennifer Clement and Prayers for the Stolen links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Guardian review
Kirkus review
New York Daily News review
Publishers Weekly review
Sunday Express review
Telegraph profile of the author

The Diane Rehm Show interview with the author
Everyday eBook interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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