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

“A revelatory work of love and hair-raising courage.” – New York Review of Books

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.
  • “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.”
  • “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 most extraordinary (and harrowing) book I read this year. Beautiful and searing and impossible to put down.”
  • “Óscar 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.”
  • “The world that Óscar 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 is a powerful storyteller and his approach to investigative journalism is closer to anthropological immersion: He walks with migrants through bloody forests, eats with them at spartan shelters, and rides with them atop speeding trains.”
  • 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.”
  • “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.”
  • “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”
  • “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.”
  • “This searing account of the hardships suffered by Central American migrants headed through Mexico to the United States comes from true shoe-leather reporting.”
  • “… Martínez’s debut is the hard-won result of immersive journalism.”
  • “A remarkable book... war reporting of the finest order. 5 stars.”
  • “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.”
  • “An extraordinary account of Central American migration to the US.”

Blog

  • This Time We Fight Back


    Phoenix, February 2017: A protestor ties himself to an ICE van in an effort to prevent the deportation of Guadalupe García de Rayos.

    On February 17, the AP reported the existence of an 11-page Department of Homeland Security memo outlining the possible use of 100,000 National Guard troops in immigration raids. The story first met a denial from the White House, followed by the subsequent admission from ICE that the memo was circulated but will not be implemented. In its place, ICE released new policy guidelines foretelling an equally draconian future.

    Darkness is coming. It has descended on immigrant communities before. We survived. We shall again.

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  • I Was Kicked Out of Federal Immigration Court — Because I'm a Journalist

    This story first appeared — on Friday, February 19 — in East Bay Express 



    I got kicked out of a public, federal immigration court hearing yesterday because I’m a newspaper reporter. And it wasn't the judge who wanted me to leave. It was the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorney. Here's what happened.

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  • One Day Without Us—A Migrant Solidarity Reading List

    Today, the petition to rescind President Trump’s state visit to Britain signed by 1.8 million people will be debated in Parliament. Stop Trump demonstrations are planned for this evening across the country and are expected to draw more than 10,000 people to stand together in solidarity with migrants and against racism and Islamophobia.

    Trump’s racist, Islamophobic, anti-refugee and anti-immigrant politics are the same driving forces as those behind the Brexit vote to leave the EU. In the context of the rise of reactionary and xenophobic politics worldwide, the Stop Trump programme of opposition is a joint effort with the One Day Without Us movement, staging its first day of action today. Tens of thousands of migrants and their supporters are staging a walkout from workplaces and places of education to celebrate the contribution migrant workers make to British society. In particular, the action aims to highlight their importance to the British economy: withdrawing their labour for a day would cost the UK £328m – 4% of the country’s GDP.

    The British government is not just complicit with Trump's agenda: Theresa May has been a trailblazer in ramping up anti-migrant measures for years before her ascent to the premiership in her role as Home Secretary when she notoriously brought in 'go home' vans. While it debates the terms of Brexit, the government continues to run a brutal and inhumane detention system; demonise and deport migrants; refuse refugees, and extend the border regime deeper into British society, into our hospitals, schools and workplaces.

    Verso presents a reading list of books that challenge and expose right-wing narratives about migrant workers and refugees by contextualising crises rooted in the violence of capitalism, legacies of colonialism and war waged by the West. This selection includes books that provide us with histories of resistance from which we can draw strength and inspiration for the fightback ahead.

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Other books by Óscar Martínez Translated by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington Introduction by Francisco Goldman