John Vaillant’s debut novel follows in the steps of two exceptional non fiction books. The Tiger still resonates with me. Not only was he able to recreate the events of a series of tiger attacks in south-eastern Russia with suspense and fear permeating off the page but he also weaved together a history of the region and all the myths that surround tigers in various cultures. Vaillant takes the same skills to his first foray into fiction and the result is remarkable.
The best way I can sum this book up is to say it is a cross between The Kite Runner and The Tiger’s Wife. Vaillant tells a story that is both suspenseful and deeply moving. The clock is literally ticking but at the same time we get a rich tapestry of characters, cultures and issues that resonate throughout the world today.
The novel is told from Hector’s point of view. Hector is trapped inside an empty water tanker somewhere in the American desert. He and his fellow passengers have been abandoned by the coyotes who have smuggled them across the border from Mexico. Their water and supplies are slowly running out. Hector’s only hope is his friend Cesar’s mobile phone and the only American contact he can find on it.
As the battery dwindles Hector recounts to the unknown “AnniMac” his story of growing up in Oaxaca, a state in south-west Mexico. Hector reflects on his father and grandfather’s stories and how the region and Mexico as a whole has changed over the generations. Through these stories we get a portrait of a people’s hopes and dreams, their myths and legends and the importance of their land. We also begin to see their desperation for something better in the face of western exploitation than has become less visible but even more critical to their way of life.
John Vaillant has written a brilliant novel that will grip you to the final words of the epilogue. Like The Kite Runnerthis a beautiful portrait of a father and son that shines a light on a country that we normally read about for all the wrong reasons. And like The Tiger’s Wife it demonstrates the power of story in culture and memory. All told from the claustrophobic inside of a water tanker, stuck in the heat of the desert, in pitch darkness with power, water, food and time running out.