I dedicate this review to 70,000 missing migrants, to the 100,000 dead from the Mexican drug war and the 8 out 10 migrant women who are raped as they travel el norte. It is a small witnessing, but I do it for you.
As the lights flicker a little bit in the American empire, we see the cracks in facade, but we must remember that we still cast a very large shadow, and we must remember those in the shadows. There isn’t a more forgotten or scorned people on this continent than the central American migrant, and Oscar Martinez gives us a tour of their world. This tour is the tour of hell. The horrible fates along this trail rival Dante and the violence seems pulled from the pages of Cormac McCarthy novel, but this is reporting, and Martinez reports it with compassion and humanity. This hell is ruled by the indifferent and at times hostile gods of the U.S. and Mexican governments and populated by more active demons like MS13 and Los Zetas, and “The beast”( a vicious almost legendary train that migrants need to hop). We start south in the violence wracked and collapsing countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. We learn the stories of those who travel north, many not just seeking a better wage, but actually fleeing for their lives. Then we travel through the desolate regions of Chiapas where the migrants are prey to bandits. Then to the ‘the beast”, descriptions of travels on the train are unreal. Bandits jumping on or being attacked with convoys of trucks, people trying to jump on and not get mutilated or killed, and once there on having to cling to the train for dear life while fighting off sleep. Then to the ghost towns and desolate regions of the border or “wall”, the deadly Rio Grande and deserts, and the hell of Ciudad Juarez. There the migrants are caught between the border patrol, the narcos, and their own coyotes. Martinez is in the Ciudad Juarez during the height of the drug war and his reporting is frightening, a city of pure fear and violence, a near civil war. He rides with the border patrol, the migrants, and those who few who try to help them without financial motivation, and those who prey on the migrants. He lets all of these voices speak. He is reporter and provides no real solutions to the disasters he witnesses, but we owe these who are among the most forgotten people in the Americas at least to hear their stories. Martinez tells it so well if you can stomach the subject matter it is a joy to read, and you will not forget it.