If I Die in Juárez

By Stella Pope Duarte

Place: Publisher & Year: Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008

Genres: General fiction, suspense

Series: Camino del Sol

ISBN: 0816526672

Intended audience: Adult

Number of pages: 328

Setting: Ciudad Juárez and the village of Montenegro, Mexico (located in the Chihuahuan desert)

Time period: 1995- 96

Plot summary: Since 1993, the bodies of hundreds of young women have been found raped, mutilated, tortured, and dumped in the Chihuahuan desert in the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez.  While Mexican law officials have arrested men who have confessed to some of the murders, or “femicides”, bodies continue to be found.  To date, about four hundred bodies have been found with many women still missing.  Duarte’s novel follows the lives of three young women as they try to navigate through Juarez’s vicious streets and culture.  In addition to their everyday struggles to survive, the young women find themselves stuck in no win situations where they are lucky to escape with their lives.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: The beginning moves more slowly as characters are introduced.  As the book progresses, tension builds and the pace increases substantially.  The book is end oriented, in spite of the fact that the murders continue today.

Characterization: The story is told in third person through the main characters – Evita, Petra, and Mayela.  Many other characters populate the story, including a few kind souls.  Many of the characters, though, are selfish and sinister – not the kind of people one would want to encounter alone in a dark alley.

Frame: A very small portion of the story takes place in a dreamlike, rural village in the mountains, where life has not changed much in hundreds of years.  This frame becomes increasingly important yet distant, in the dirty, industrial, evil border town that overflows with corruption, greed, drugs, prostitution, power, and perversion.

Story line: An intensely serious story that attempts to examine the femicides of Juarez through a cultural lens – one that includes Mexican history and culture, but also, border politics, drug cartels, and the effects of NAFTA on the rural poor of Mexico.

Subject headings:

From PCPL:

Poor women — Fiction.

Women — Mexico — Fiction.

Women — Crimes against — Mexico — Ciudad Juárez — Fiction.

Murder — Mexico — Ciudad Juárez — Fiction.

Ciudad Juárez (Mexico) — Fiction.

Similar authors:

From Amazon:

Non-fiction –

The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border by Teresa Rodriguez

The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women by Diana Washington Valdez

Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez (Spanish Edition) by Marjorie Agosin

Violence and Activism at the Border: Gender, Fear, and Everyday Life in Ciudad Juarez (Inter-America Series) by Kathleen Staudt

Fiction –

Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders by Alicia Gaspar De Alba

Personal notes:

While this was a very difficult book to read knowing that the story is based upon actual events, it was an engrossing read.

I also noticed an error in NoveList’s subject headings.  I believe it should read Indians of Mexico, not Central America, since the Tarahumara and Huichol are both indigenous to Mexico.

[Annotated 6/21/09]

Other sites of interest:

Wikipedia article – “Female homicides in Ciudad Juarez”

Mother Jones article – “To Work and Die in Juarez”

Other (themes, diversity): Diversity – Mexicans, Tarahumara Native Americans, Huichol Native Americans, prostitutes, maquiladora workers, street children

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