Among the Lost: A Hellish Odyssey in One Trip Around the Sun

If you enjoy horror, don’t read it. Nothing that space clowns or Texan chainsaw murderers do can compare to the reality of these people’s lives.

Briefly, this book portrays one day in the life of a group of slave traffickers in modern Mexico. Their kidnapped victims are all attempting to make a perilous journey from the place of their birth and cross Mexico on foot. Author Emiliano Monge gives some voice to these migrants, using testimony of those who survived this journey. Once they encounter the traffickers, the migrants’ possessions, names, and family are quickly stolen. They become the Soulless, the Forgotten. Their words are all that they have.

In an obviously brutal juxtaposition, their captors have multiple names. Epitafio, also known as HewholovesEstela, and Estela, who is known as ShewholovesEpitafio and Ihearwhatiwanttohear. The story follows these two and the side cast that orbits around them. Monge creates a strange other-world even as it is rooted in reality. The two main psychopaths, who routinely kidnap, torture and kill migrants, maintain a fierce loyalty to each other. Their mutual deep love is the only reason that either one is still alive. That, and their willingness to be deliberately horrific. It is such a jarring difference to me that I cannot make sense of it.

Monge’s focus oscillates uncertainly among the characters. He describes the internal narrative of one and then switches to another mid-paragraph. This jarring and disorienting narrative style is somehow appropriate. It matches the sense of confusing interconnectedness of this crime syndicate. It is loosely intertwining vines, without a clear goal or direction apart from surviving the day, no matter the pain caused to others.

How to encapsulate this book? It is an epic, but only one day long. It is unforgivably brutal, but shows a vulnerable love between two evil people. It refuses to answer the questions it poses. Does a person become evil? Or are we stripped until the innate evil is all that is left of us?

Favorite quote: “he had to decide where to vent the rage that only a moment ago he was forced to choke down.”