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September 7, 2019

Mirador by James A. Jennings ~ a Review

by MK French


Sarah Hunter is a nurse hoping to help people in need. When Pastor Tom looks for volunteers for a mission trip to Mirador in Chiapas, Mexico, Sarah immediately seizes the chance. Her husband Nate won’t let her go alone, and neither are aware of the unrest brewing in the country. Sarah tangles with the leader of a paramilitary group, and Nate is led deeper into the jungle of a secret rebel camp. Their two-week trip becomes rife with unforgiving tests and challenges.

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August 2019; Greenpoint Press; 978-0990619444
ebook, print (484 pages); Mayan history
James is a fifth-generation Oklahoman and decedent of Chickasaw tribal chiefs. He studied Latin American history and politics at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and his love for Mexico’s people and history is very clear here. With 2019 being the 25th anniversary of NAFTA and the Zapatista uprising, this novel's release is well-timed. The uprising had centered around the NAFTA agreement, which would essentially destroy the agrarian life that most villagers had, which was already a struggle for most indigenous families. Because of the time period, the internet was only just taking off, and Nate's work as a computer engineer gives us a vantage point to the different feelings people had about it at the time.

The novel opens with the mission trip a year before the uprising, and there are already signs that things are not quite what was promised. Borders with armed guards exist everywhere, their guide occasionally grew sullen explaining the situation to them, and the evidence of state police beating people in front of the crew before they even got to Mirador. Their guide gives them all (and by extension us) the background into the place, the poverty of its people, and the simmering anger that the tourists were unaware of. Because of the back and forth with the other tourists, as well as the asides that indicate he knows far more than he is telling them, this doesn't feel like an info dump but an actual conversation. The jungles are beautifully described, and it is a vivid rendering that makes you feel as though you're there in the stifling heat or floating down the river along with the characters.

It always bothers me when women are fridged so that men can be in pain and eventually be heroes in her name, or that they're perennial victims. It's probably inevitable in this narrative, given how unprepared they were for the level of violence in the area. That almost makes me feel like idealism is punished, and that the countryside of 1993 Mexico is a bleak and feral place, with the ruthless taking whatever they want and abusing whoever is there. The manipulation of the characters, realistic though it is, feels like additional layers of betrayal as a reader. I feel just as upset as Nate does throughout the novel, especially as it continues and the horrors that the villagers suffer through continue. The obvious bad guy of the novel, El Pitón, along with his men, do just about every vile thing they can do to villagers, ruling them out of fear and that the legitimate governors simply don't want to fill out paperwork. It isn't until the final third that the action portion really picks up, and there is more tension and activity along with the death. We sort of have a resolution at the end; sort of, because there are other paramilitary groups and unrest in the area targeting indigenous people.

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Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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