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The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail

“Graceful, incisive writing ... gripping prose and detail.” – New York Times

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Economist & The Financial Times

One day a few years ago, 300 migrants were kidnapped between the remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got 120 released, many with broken ankles and other marks of abuse, but the rest vanished. Óscar Martínez, a young writer from El Salvador, was in Altar soon after the abduction, and his account of the migrant disappearances is only one of the harrowing stories he garnered from two years spent traveling up and down the migrant trail from Central America and across the US border. More than a quarter of a million Central Americans make this increasingly dangerous journey each year, and each year as many as 20,000 of them are kidnapped.

Martínez writes in powerful, unforgettable prose about clinging to the tops of freight trains; finding respite, work and hardship in shelters and brothels; and riding shotgun with the border patrol. Illustrated with stunning full-color photographs, The Beast is the first book to shed light on the harsh new reality of the migrant trail in the age of the narcotraficantes.

Reviews

  • “The graceful, incisive writing lifts “The Beast” from being merely an impressive feat of reportage into the realm of literature. Mr. Martínez has produced something that is an honorable successor to enduring works like George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier” or Jacob Riis’s “How the Other Half Lives.””
  • “The most extraordinary (and harrowing) book I read this year was Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail. This is a bravura act of frontline reporting that tracks the horror passage that many immigrants must survive (and some don’t) to reach the US from the south. These immigrants are preyed on by everyone and yet they cling to hope like they cling to the trains that will bring some of them to what they pray will be better lives. Beautiful and searing and impossible to put down.”
  • “To understand the dramatic realities faced by the migrants who flee northwards to find work in the United States, Óscar Martínez literally jumped trains and dodged killers. He deserves praise not only for his efforts, and for what he writes about, but because he writes so very well.”
  • “Martínez’s unrelenting drive as a reporter anchors the stories he tells with gritty detail and an immersive knowledge of his subject matter, but it is this combined with his poet’s eye which makes reading The Beast such a vivid, devastating experience.”
  • “Óscar Martínez is a journalist of uncommon bravery and a writer of prodigious talent. The Beast is a powerful, necessary book, one of the finest pieces of journalism to emerge from Latin America in years.”
  • “A heartbreaking book about the world's most invisible people. A revelatory work of love and hair-raising courage.”
  • “The Beast is extraordinary, first, for the courage that Martínez summoned to write it; and, second, for the hidden lives he reveals. No other writer has got this close to a migration that Amnesty International estimates left 70,000 unaccounted for between 2006 and 2012. Read together, the vivid personal stories told here have the force of a novel, the bravery of the migrants holding up a terrible mirror to the gang violence of Central America, the grotesque institutional breakdown of backcountry Mexico, and the callousness of the US, which once fanned civil wars in Central America and now turns its back on the problems those conflicts helped create. Yet if Martínez feels anger, he does not show it. Instead, his precise, empathetic and often poetic language summons rage and pity but also admiration in the reader.”
  • “The world that Oscar Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, set out to report on five years ago is so violent, depraved and hellish, you can hardly believe he survived to tell the tale... rugged prose, beautifully translated.”
  • “Martínez's writing is eloquent, gritty, and incisive, embedded in vividly observed detail ...”
  • “Oscar Martínez is one of the bravest writers in Latin America, if not the world. He's also one of the best... he has crafted a portrait of the hellish conditions and dangers for those dreaming of a better life. For such devastating subject matter, it's a fluent, humane, readable book, and one of the most capital-I important, capital-I inspiring released this year... an essential piece of writing about some of the hardest and most hopeful young people on earth”
  • “This searing account of the hardships suffered by Central American migrants headed through Mexico to the United States comes from true shoe-leather reporting.”
  • “The statistics are terrifying. Amnesty International recently estimated that as many as 70,000 undocumented migrants went missing in Mexico between 2006 and 2012. An estimated 80 per cent of migrant women are raped on the journey. Martinez – who faces untold dangers as a reporter – gets beyond these numbers with skill and subtlety. He tells the stories of individuals with names, ages, faces, families, for whom migration is a matter of life and death.”
  • “… Martínez’s debut is the hard-won result of immersive journalism.”
  • “A remarkable book... war reporting of the finest order. 5 stars.”
  • “Oscar Martínez has written a gale-force book, a sweep across the equally daunting criminal and physical landscapes from the vantage point of those at the war’s coalface: Central American migrants crossing Mexico by train, road and on foot through scrub and desert, chasing the phantasmagoria of America, such is the misery or danger back home... Martínez is clearly a wonderful listener – journalism’s rarest and most important attribute – and this makes his prose resound with raw authenticity.”
  • “Drawing on eight trips accompanying illegal migrants from Central America across the border into the United States. Oscar Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, does a beautiful job describing a world that is hellish, violent and depraved.”

Blog

  • Los Angeles Review of Books calls The Beast a “tour de force”

    In a December 28th review, Aaron Shulman, writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, gives Óscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail high praise, calling it a “tour de force” and “one of the books I loved most from 2013.”

    Lauding Martínez’s account of migrants’ harrowing journey across borders as both a journalistic and literary feat, Shulman says:

    The result of such an all-in effort is a painfully reported, lapidarily written, and viscerally affecting narrative. The Beast, like so many great books, lands on you with a revelatory frisson, the arrival of a story we didn’t know we were waiting to hear.

    Martínez’s unrelenting drive as a reporter anchors the stories he tells with gritty detail and an immersive knowledge of his subject matter, but it is this combined with his poet’s eye which makes reading The Beast such a vivid, devastating experience. From the “insolent thug walk, that hard, body-teetering limp” of a migrant named Pitbull, to the “trebley beat” of music on a tense bus ride,” to “the calm emptiness of the narco desert,” every person and place in The Beast throbs with texture and realness.

    Visit the Los Angeles Review of Books to read the review in full. 

  • 2013 Highlights from Verso Books

    From scaling the very highest rooftops to political scandal through the eyes of Alexander Cockburn, we bring you our seasonal highlights for 2013.

    THE CITY / URBAN EXPLORATION



     
    Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City
    Bradley L. Garrett

    "Garrett perceives the city like no one else I know. Seen through his eyes, it is newly porous, full of “vanishing points”, “imperfect joinings” and portals – service hatches, padlocked doorways – that you wouldn't usually notice... The city's accessible space extends far down into the earth (sewers, bunkers, tunnels) and far up into the air (skyscrapers, cranes), with the street level only serving as a median altitude." – Robert Macfarlane, Guardian 

    "[Combines] erudite references (Montesquieu, Walter Benjamin) with compelling photographs of men in hoodies in strange places." – Rowan Moore, The Observer Architecture Books of the Year

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  • Junot Díaz picks The Beast as his book of 2013

    The Financial Times pulled together their the best books of 2013 - as chosen by a selection of their writers and guests.

    Junot Díaz selected The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail as his book of the year, describing it as: 

    "The most extraordinary (and harrowing) book I read this year... This is a bravura act of frontline reporting that tracks the horror passage that many immigrants must survive (and some don’t) to reach the US from the south. These immigrants are preyed on by everyone and yet they cling to hope like they cling to the trains that will bring some of them to what they pray will be better lives. Beautiful and searing and impossible to put down."


    Continue Reading