This is the start of a new series called: Lesser Known Reads. I will highlight lesser known books by either well known authors, or by lesser known authors and their books.
First up, Jennifer Clement.
I was introduced to the lovely Jennifer Clement during my time at ALOUD. I picked up a copy of Prayers for the Stolen on a Thursday before I left the office, and I promptly had it finished by the end of the weekend. I could have probably finished in one day, but I stretched it out. Jennifer Clement writes so beautifully that her books are like treats. Bittersweet yet satisfying treats.
She is most widely known internationally, unfortunately, less so in the United States.I had the pleasure of meeting her when she came to ALOUD earlier this year to discuss Prayers for the Stolen. She is every bit as lovely as her novels. She has such an artistic soul, and listening to her talk was much like reading her novels. (Link to the ALOUD podcast if you’re interested.)
Clement is a journalist, writer, and poet. She’s traveled the world, was the former president of PEN Mexico, and has been awarded numerous awards for her work. She currently lives in Mexico City.
Prayers for the Stolen tells the story of the voiceless women of Mexico. Women who are forced to dig holes in their yards to avoid detection, of young girls who dress like boys and blacken their teeth to hide their beauty, and of mothers who have also become fathers in their quest to protect their girls. This novel is truly terrifying because it’s rooted so deeply in reality. Jennifer Clement’s inspiration for this novel was the real life story of women in the rural regions of Mexico who dig holes in the ground to avoid kidnappings by the drug cartels. She wanted to write a nonfiction piece on this issue, but fear of retaliation stopped her. The novel centers around Ladydi and her friends’ lives Guerrero. The jungle’s stifling heat acts as an appropriate backdrop for this tale. Ladydi’s life is filled with suffocation, from her mother- a drunk kleptomaniac- and her surroundings. She rarely leaves her hill for anything but school and errands. She and her friends live in constant danger and fear, and all they really know of the outside world is known through rumors and whispers from passing foreigners. It’s a truly unique tale, and Clement takes you on an unexpected journey. You will fall in love with Ladydi’s spirit and her resilience, even as her story breaks your heart.
Widow Basquiat is part memoir part biography.Jennifer Clement is good friends with Suzanne Mallouk, Jean-Michele Basquiat’s long time girlfriend. The book chronicles Suzanne and Jean-Michele’s tumultuous relationship, and their lives in New York’s 1970’s and 80’s art scene. It’s a very short read, but again I found myself not wanting to let it go. It’s a very intimate look at Basquiat’s early life, his rise to fame, and ultimately his death.We are also privy to Suzanne’s life, and she is much more than a famous man’s girlfriend. Her life was insane and incredible. She did what she wanted and how she wanted it. If tragic love stories are your thing, ( for someone reason they are mine) then you will gobble this one up. You’ll be completely entranced by Clement’s poetic prose, and by an intimate glimpse into one of the most celebrated and enigmatic artist of our time.
She has also published poetry collection in both Spanish and English, but they have been really difficult to track. I’m hopeful I’ll stumble on copies eventually!
If you do pick up any of Jennifer Clement’s work, let me know what you thought of it.
Thanks for reading 🙂