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A fence, A wall. A border: who are the bad hombres, in the end?

saint-deathI must confess I would never normally be drawn to a book with this sort of cover – it suggests some book focused towards those enamoured of zombie/werewolf/vampires and the like, but perhaps with a notched up degree of violence, and possibly of appeal to young boys with a yen for shoot-em-up video games.

Nothing like the prejudice of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ going on here, eh?

Well, this is certainly geared to YA readers, though they might find that the violence and darkness in the pages is a kind of sweetener to encourage facing still darker matters. This book carries weightier themes, is bang-on-topical, and mixes myth, responsibility, gang warfare and class consciousness extremely powerfully. Not to mention friendship, free-will versus destiny, chance and choice..

It was the author that drew me, despite the lurid cover. This is, after all, Marcus Sedgwick, a wonderful author, writing challenging, thoughtful books for a younger audience – and also the odd foray into adult fiction

Saint Death is set on the Mexican side of the border with the US. It’s theme is the exploitation of the poor by capitalism, and how that goes hand in glove with gangland control and exploitation, drug running, violence and prostitution. It is strong meat for an adult reader, never mind a teen

anapra

Arturo is probably in his late teens. His mother is dead, his alcoholic, violent father gone from his life. He lives in the shantytown neighbourhood of Anapra, in the city of Juarez, Chihuahua, close to the Rio Grande. He gets by through occasional casual employment in an auto-shop, and steers clear of the gangs. He had a dear, childhood friend, Faustino, an immigrant from an even poorer place. Faustino had not kept so clear of trouble – extreme poverty means even the most righteous might find they surrender to powerful, vicious people, for the chance to put food on a plate. Faustino is now in danger and comes to his childhood friend for salvation

800px-santa-muerte-nlaredo2

Interspersed within this violent tale is a dark, older religion, a Death-cult figure, Santisima Muerte, ever present, who must be placated, prayed to, sought for protection against her own visitation. There are also reflections, riffs, poems, where Sedgwick, sometimes using the words of others, comments on the wider political, ethical issues. Reminding the reader that though this might be a story, it is, or something similar is, a reality happening daily

This book is about other stories that occur
over there, across the river

The comfortable way to deal with these
stories is to say they are about them.

The way to understand these stories is to say
they are about us”

Charles Bowden

There are aspects of it which don’t quite work for me – the Spanish punctuation, and the interjection of frequent snatches of Spanish dialogue. Okay, it gives ‘flavour’ but it seemed a little tricksy. I could imagine the slang would be something which might appeal though, to its target audience

And I do think Sedgwick is extremely skillful at writing something which has page-turning action which might appeal to younger readers, whilst what he is writing is very far from escapism; rather, an invitation to look at how an unfair world works, and then castigates those who it has forced into suffering

We handed the right to kill to that thing we call civilisation. Civilisation does our killing for us, and we can wash our hands of it. This is the management of death. But the blood will not wash off

I received this from Amazon Vine UKmarcus-sedgwick-012

Saint Death Amazon UK
Saint Death Amazon USA

This book won’t be published in the States till April 25th

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