The novel narrates the true story of a Mexican man and his French girlfriend who were falsely accused of running a kidnapping gang, tortured and incarcerated. Kidnapping people to get ransom is one of the most wide-spread types of crime in Mexico. By the most modest accounts, 18 people are kidnapped in Mexico every single day. When the victims are women or children, they are not only tortured but also gang-raped daily every day they spend in captivity.
Authorities in Mexico are desperate to show the public that they are tough on crime. But investigating crime is hard, so they routinely grab some poor innocent bastards, torture and rape them for days until they confess to be kidnappers (or narcos, or robbers, etc) and put them in jail. This happens all the time, and nobody gives a crap. The only reason why the case narrated by Volpi in his documentary novel got any attention is that this time the Mexican police made the mistake of arresting a French citizen on such false charges.
The French government – including president Sarkozy – fought hard for the liberty of their falsely accused and imprisoned in Mexico compatriot. A decade later, they actually succeeded in rescuing her from a Mexican jail. Nobody, however, fought for the Mexicans who were falsely accused together with the French woman and treated much much worse.
Volpi wants the world to care not only for the French victim of Mexican police misconduct but also for the Mexican ones. And what I really like about the novel is that he isn’t laying the responsibility for the shameful state of Mexico’s criminal justice system at anyone else’s door. I’m honestly very fed up with hearing how everything is the fault of the Spanish empire, the US, or the little green aliens from Alpha Centauri.
Volpi makes no secret of wanting to be a Zola-like figure in a modern rendition of the Dreyfus case. It’s kind of ironic since the most sinister figure in his narrative is a Mossad-trained Mexican Jew. But hey, if you’re bothered by anti-Semitism, abstain from Latin American literature. And Almudena Grandes, as we all learned recently.
The novel is completely documentary and based on truly extensive research. I deeply respect Volpi (Mossad-trained evil Jews notwithstanding) for doing this work. I believe that if more intellectuals in underdeveloped, corrupt countries like his and mine stopped dickering around and started fighting for human rights like Volpi does, it would make a real difference.