Cover image for The jaguar's children
The jaguar's children
Vaillant, John.
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
Physical Description:
280 pages ; 24 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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An Indie Next pick

"Terrifying . . . Though the geography of the story is that of Cormac McCarthy, the plot shares more territory with Edgar Allan Poe . . . An end that is improbable, dripping with irony, and entirely satisfying." -- Outside

"Vaillant writes with power and emotion, affection and respect . . . An eloquent literary dissection of the divide between the United States and Mexico." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

From the best-selling author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce , this debut novel is a gripping survival story of a young man trapped, perhaps fatally, during a border crossing.

Hector is trapped. The water truck, sealed to hide its human cargo, has broken down. The coyotes have taken all the passengers' money for a mechanic and have not returned. Those left behind have no choice but to wait.

Hector finds a name in his friend Cesar's phone. AnniMac. A name with an American number. He must reach her, both for rescue and to pass along the message Cesar has come so far to deliver. But are his messages going through?

Over four days, as water and food run low, Hector tells how he came to this desperate place. His story takes us from Oaxaca -- its rich culture, its rapid change -- to the dangers of the border. It exposes the tangled ties between Mexico and El Norte -- land of promise and opportunity, homewrecker and unreliable friend. And it reminds us of the power of storytelling and the power of hope, as Hector fights to ensure his message makes it out of the truck and into the world.

Both an outstanding suspense novel and an arresting window into the relationship between two great cultures, The Jaguar's Children shows how deeply interconnected all of us, always, are.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Vaillant, the author of two widely praised and best-selling nonfiction works, The Golden Spruce (2005) and The Tiger (2010), turns to fiction with this searing story of an illegal immigrant abandoned in the Arizona desert. After the truck breaks down and the guides go off in search of help, Hector uses his unconscious friend Cesar's cell phone to text and send sound files to AnniMac, the only person in Cesar's directory with a U.S. number. Hector details the nightmarish, rapidly deteriorating condition of the 14 Mexicans trapped with him and talks about his life in rural Oaxaca. In a narrative heavily woven through with Spanish phrases, Hector pours out his anguish and weaves a rich tale of his family's hard life, which touches on his ancestors' worship of the jaguar, archaeological expeditions in the region, the dangers of genetically modified corn, and his father's burning desire that his son go to el norte in search of better opportunities. Vaillant's timely first novel captures both the straitened circumstances of hardworking campesinos and the humanity and raw desperation of a man slowly giving in to hopelessness.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Following his nonfiction works The Golden Spruce and The Tiger, Vaillant delivers a dramatic, tense novel that begins in the claustrophobic confines of a water truck, in which 15 would-be immigrants to the U.S. are trapped; among them are Hector Maria de la Soledad Lazaro Gonzalez and his friend Cesar Ramirez Santiago. When the vehicle lurches and suddenly stops, it knocks Cesar unconscious, leaving Hector to search for a cellphone signal to send out an SOS. A series of text messages and sound files form the narrative as Hector tries to contact AnniMac, the only contact in Cesar's phone with a U.S. number. The author doesn't let the reader get trapped alongside the duo, however, instead including a series of flashbacks in which Hector relates stories from his family history and the events that led him to join Cesar in fleeing Mexico. Taking on illegal immigration and human trafficking, as well as the misdeeds of multinational corporations, the book is sometimes didactic, although the importance of its themes, which closely mirror life, cannot be doubted. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Hector is trapped inside the back of a sealed water truck as he is attempts to sneak into the United States. He and the 14 other -passengers have been abandoned by the coyotes who have taken all their money and left them. Hector dictates his story over four days of dwindling food and water in darkness into a friend's cell phone with the desperate hope that the person attached to the name AnniMac in the directory will get the message and somehow save him and his fellow travelers. Vaillant's (The Tiger) story is simply masterly in its richness and detail of the desperate life in Oaxaca, Mexico. The difficulty of the lives of those who just wish for a chance to work as gardeners or busboys in El Norte is extraordinary. Ozzie Rodriguez and David H. Lawrence XVII's narrations are magnificent in inflection and accent and the palatable sense of death and desperation. VERDICT Highly recommended. ["This terror-laden story will remind readers of Luis Alberto Urrea's The Devil's Highway," read the starred review of the Houghton Harcourt hc, LJ 9/1/14.]-Scott R. DiMarco, Mansfield Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 Thu Apr 5--08:31 [text] Hello I'm sorry to bother you but I need your assistance--I am Hector--Cesar's friend--It's an emergency now for Cesar--Are you in el norte? I think we are also--Arizona near Nogales or Sonoita--Since yesterday we are in this truck with no one coming--We need water and a doctor--And a torch for cutting metal Thur Apr 5--08:48 [text] Please text me AnniMac--We need help Thu Apr 5--08:59 [text] Are you there AnniMac? It's Hector--Please text me Thu Apr 5--09:52 [text] There was a storm--1 bar only now--ARE YOU THERE??? Thu Apr 5--10:09 [text] 1 bar--Something's broken--Maybe from the lightning--The helicopter came again but doesn't stop--How do they not see us? Nothing going now Thu Apr 5--10:26 [soundfile] Hello? I hope this works. Still one bar only, so I'm recording now and when the signal comes back I will send it in a file with all the details and the information from Cesar. He is badly hurt, AnniMac​ -- ​unconscious. I looked in his contacts for someone else, but the Mexican numbers won't work now, and you are the only one with an American code. I hope you are his friend. I know him from school, but I haven't seen him in many years. We've been together only a short time now to cross the border and already he gave me so many things. I have been telling him he's not alone, that I sent you messages and you're coming soon, that you will save us. I don't know if he hears, but in this darkness how will he know to live without a voice--some sign of life? So I talk to him, and to you also. AnniMac, if you get these messages and come to look for us what you are looking for is a water truck--an old Dina. The tank is a big one--ten thousand liters and you will know it when you see an adobe-color truck that says on the side AGUA PARA USO HUMANO--Water for Human Use. But that doesn't mean you can drink it. This one is different because someone has painted J and R so it says now JAGUAR PARA USO HUMANO. I saw this in the garage before we loaded and I didn't know if it was graffiti or some kind of code, the secret language of coyotes, but then I was nervous to ask and later it was too late. Thu Apr 5--10:34 [soundfile] It works. I made a soundfile. I will send it when the bars come back, and this one also. The coyotes told us it was a good idea to fill a water truck with people. A good way to get across. No one will know we are here because there is no way into the tank besides two small pipes in the back. The door on top is too small for a person, and they put a box inside with water so if the truck is stopped and searched by la Migra it will not look suspicious. This is what the coyotes told us, like they were describing special features on a new car. It is expensive to do it they said, and this is why we must pay extra, but only un poquito. They were talking fast all the time, but not as fast as their eyes. Some things you want to know about coyotes--just like in the wild nature there are no fat ones and no old ones. They are young machos hoping one day to be something more--a heavy, a real chingón. But first they must do this thing--this taking across the border, and this is where they learn to be hard. Coyotes have another name also. Polleros. A pollero is a man who herds the chickens. There is no such thing really because chickens go where they want, but this is the name for these men. And we--the ones who want to cross--are the pollos. Maybe you know pollo is not a chicken running in the yard-- gallina is the name for that. Pollo is chicken cooked on a plate--a dinner for coyotes. This is who is speaking to you now. The promise made to us for thirty thousand pesos each-- pesitos Lupo called them, like they were only small--the promise was to cross the border quickly between Sonoita and Nogales--no more than three hours, garantizado. Then drive straight to a warehouse where a compadre will cut the hole again and let us out. We will be safe there, he said, with water and gringo clothes and time to call our contacts. In the warehouse there is some kind of secret door with a place to meet the vans so we can leave invisible. These were the promises made to us. Besides me and Cesar in here are thirteen others--nine men and four women, all of us from the south. Two are even from Nicaragua. I don't know how they can pay unless they are pandilleros because it is expensive to be in here. To fit us all in, a mechanic with a torch cut a hole in the belly of the tank. Then we climbed in, and with a welder he closed the hole again and painted it over. Inside is dark like you're blind with only the cold metal to sit on and so crowded you are always touching someone. There is a smell of rust and old water and the walls are alive with something that likes to grow in the wet and dark, something that needs much less air than a man. I can touch the ceiling if I stand, but the tank is slippery from whatever is growing in here and I could hear people falling when they got in. Unless you are in the very back or the front, the walls are round so it is hard to sit. Cesar and me were the last ones so we are in the back by the pipes and we have a straight wall. It is a good position and we must protect it, the same as the shoeshine man must protect his puesto on the plaza. All of us agreed to wait until this morning, until it got hot again, and then if the coyotes did not come back we would use the phones to call for help. No one wanted to do this. No one wants to see la Migra and be deported. We have traveled so far and paid so much. So we waited as long as we could--all day and all the night, but people are afraid now because we can die in here you know, and it is difficult to breathe. There are four phones I know about--mine, Cesar's, Naldo's and another guy from Veracruz with no more minutes who will not speak now. Naldo is a Mixtec kid from Puebla, maybe sixteen years old. He had some minutes, but he couldn't get a signal and then he used up his battery reading old text messages from his girlfriend, even though the Veracruzano told him not to. He has been crying a lot and this is bad for water conservation. Talking is not so good either, but to only wait is worse. Already it is more than thirty hours. Excerpted from The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.