There is a minor tradition wherein English-language novels are set in Mexico. It’s a spotty canon*, due in large part to the challenges faced by foreign authors wanting to write of Mexico while also feeling a need – or more fairly, a requirement – to explain the country to their readers. Good news: the celebrated non-fiction writer John Vaillant has now raised the standard with The Jaguar’s Children, his first published novel.
Our protagonist is Héctor, a young Zapotec from Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, trapped with 14 others in a water truck en route to the United States. Abandoned by his smuggler, Héctor reaches out to an unresponsive American contact on his friend César’s phone, one “AnniMac”, first texting then recording his dire predicament. This is how the novel is told, in “first-person Zapotec.” It’s a conceit that gives us access to Héctor’s world – his personal history, his hopes, and his desperate situation.