The Jaguar's Children

by John Vaillant

An unforgettable, page-turning survival story recounted by Hector, a man trapped—perhaps fatally—inside a tanker truck during an illegal border crossing, telling of his hopes for rescue, the joys and trials of his life, and what has brought us all to this moment

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544315495
  • ISBN-10: 0544315499
  • Pages: 288
  • Publication Date: 01/27/2015
  • Carton Quantity: 12

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    An Indie Next pick 


    “Terrifying . . . Though the geography of the story is that of Cormac McCarthy, the plot shares more territory with Edgar Allan Poe . . . An end that is improbable, dripping with irony, and entirely satisfying.” —Outside 


    “Vaillant writes with power and emotion, affection and respect . . . An eloquent literary dissection of the divide between the United States and Mexico.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review 


    From the best-selling author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce, this debut novel is a gripping survival story of a young man trapped, perhaps fatally, during a border crossing. 


    Hector is trapped. The water truck, sealed to hide its human cargo, has broken down. The coyotes have taken all the passengers’ money for a mechanic and have not returned. Those left behind have no choice but to wait. 


    Hector finds a name in his friend Cesar’s phone. AnniMac. A name with an American number. He must reach her, both for rescue and to pass along the message Cesar has come so far to deliver. But are his messages going through? 


    Over four days, as water and food run low, Hector tells how he came to this desperate place. His story takes us from Oaxaca — its rich culture, its rapid change — to the dangers of the border. It exposes the tangled ties between Mexico and El Norte — land of promise and opportunity, homewrecker and unreliable friend. And it reminds us of the power of storytelling and the power of hope, as Hector fights to ensure his message makes it out of the truck and into the world. 


    Both an outstanding suspense novel and an arresting window into the relationship between two great cultures, The Jaguar’s Children shows how deeply interconnected all of us, always, are. 


  • About the Author
  • Excerpts


    Thu Apr 5—08:31 [text] 

    hello i am sorry to bother you but i need your assistance—i am hector—cesars friend—its an emergency now for cesar—are you in el norte? I think we are also—arizona near nogales or sonoita—since yesterday we are in this truck with no one coming—we need water and a doctor—and a torch for cutting metal 


    Thur Apr 5—08:48 [text] 

    please text me annimac—we need help 


    Thu Apr 5—08:59 [text] 

    are you there annimac? it’s hector—please text me 


    Thu Apr 5—09:52 [text] 

    there was a storm—1 bar only now—ARE YOU THERE??? 


    Thu Apr 5—10:09 [text] 

    1 bar—something’s broken—maybe from the lightning—the helicopter came again but doesn’t stop—how do they not see us? Nothing going now 


    Thu Apr 5—10:26 [soundfile] 

    Hello? I hope this works. Still one bar only but I’m recording now and when the signal comes back I will send it in a file with all the details and the information from César. He is badly hurt, AnniMac? — ?unconscious. I looked in his contacts for someone else, but the Mexican numbers won’t work now, and you are the only one with an American code. I hope you are his friend. I know him from school, but I haven’t seen him in many years. We’ve been together only a short time now to cross the border and already he gave me so many things. I have been telling him he’s not alone, that I sent you messages and you’re coming soon, that you will save us. I don’t know if he hears, but in this darkness how will he know to live without a voice—some sign of life? So I talk to him, and to you also. 

       AnniMac, if you get these messages and come to look for us what you are looking for is a water truck—an old Dina. The tank is a big one—ten thousand liters and you will know it when you see an adobe-color truck that says on the side AGUA PARA USO HUMANO—Water for Human Use. But that doesn’t mean you can drink it. This one is different because someone has painted J and R so it says now JAGUAR PARA USO HUMANO. I saw this in the garage before we loaded and I didn’t know if it was graffiti or some kind of code, the secret language of coyotes, but then I was nervous to ask and later it was too late. 


    Thu Apr 5—10:34 

    It works. I made a soundfile. I will send it when the bars come back, and this one also. The coyotes told us it was a good idea to fill a water truck with people. A good way to get across. No one will know we are here because there is no way into the tank besides two small pipes in the back. The door on top is too small for a person, and they put a box inside with water so if the truck is stopped and searched by la Migra it will not look suspicious. This is what the coyotes told us, like they were describing special features on a new car. It is expensive to do it they said, and this is why we must pay extra, but only un poquito. They were talking fast all the time, but not as fast as their eyes. 

       Some things you want to know about coyotes—just like in the wild nature there are no fat ones and no old ones. They are young machos hoping one day to be something more—a heavy, a real chingón. But first they must do this thing—this taking across the border, and this is where they learn to be hard. Coyotes have another name also. Polleros. A pollero is a man who herds the chickens. There is no such thing really because chickens go where they want, but this is the name for these men. And we—the ones who want to cross—are the pollos. Maybe you know pollo is not a chicken running in the yard—gallina is the name for that. Pollo is chicken cooked on a plate—a dinner for coyotes. This is who is speaking to you now. 

      Besides me and César in here are thirteen others—nine men and four women, all of us from the south. Two are even from Nicaragua. I don’t know how they can pay unless they are pandilleros because it is expensive to be in here. To fit us all in, a mechanic with a torch cut a hole in the belly of the tank. Then we climbed in, and with a welder he closed the hole again and painted it over. Inside is dark like you’re blind with only the cold metal to sit on and so crowded you are always touching someone. There is a smell of rust and old water and the walls are alive with something that likes to grow in the wet and dark, something that needs much less air than a man. 

       I can touch the ceiling if I stand, but the tank is slippery from whatever is growing in here and I could hear people falling when they got in. Unless you are in the very back or the front, the walls are round so it is hard to sit. César and me were the last ones so we are in the back by the pipes and we have a straight wall. It is a good position and we must protect it, the same as the shoeshine man must protect his puesto on the plaza. 

      The promise made to us for thirty thousand pesos each—pesitos Lupo called them, like they were only small—the promise was to cross the border quickly between Sonoita and Nogales—no more than three hours, garantizado. Then drive straight to a warehouse where a compadre will cut the hole again and let us out. We will be safe there, he said, with water and gringo clothes and time to call our contacts. In the warehouse there is some kind of secret door with a place to meet the vans so we can leave invisible. These were the promises made to us. 


    All of us agreed to wait until this morning, until it got hot again, and then if the coyotes did not come back we would use the phones to call for help. No one wanted to do this. No one wants to see la Migra and be deported. We have traveled so far and paid so much. So we waited as long as we could—all day and all the night, but people are afraid now because we can die in here you know, and it is difficult to breathe. 

       There are four phones I know about—mine, César's, Naldo’s and another guy from Veracruz with no more minutes who will not speak now. Naldo is a Mixtec kid from Puebla, maybe sixteen years old. He had some minutes, but he couldn’t get a signal and then he used up his battery reading old text messages from his girlfriend, even though the Veracruzano told him not to. He has been crying a lot and this is bad for water conservation. Talking is not so good either, but to only wait is worse. Already it is more than thirty hours.

  • Reviews

    Nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award 2017 

    A Finalist for the Writers' Trust Award 

    New York Times Paperback Row 

    A Library Journal Editors' BEA Pick 

    February 2015 Indie Next Title  

    BAM Top Pick for Spring 2015 

    The Boston Globe Pick of the Week

    "This is what novels can doilluminate shadowed lives, enable us to contemplate our own depths of kindness, challenge our beliefs about fate ... Vaillant's use of fact to inspire fiction brings to mind a long list of powerful novels from the past decade or so: What is the What by Dave Eggers; The Map of Love, by Ahdaf Soueif; The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult ... What could be more important than carving out an hour or three and opening yourself to the voice of another, to the possibility that a novel will transform you?"Amanda Eyre Ward, New York Times Book Review

    "An extraordinary feat of literary ventriloquism…The horrors of a single passage over the border blossom into a human history of sorrow and suffering, all of it beginning with the thirst to be free."Alan Cheuse, NPR

    "[A] book that should be required reading in every civics class in the country. Vaillant brilliantly exposes the dynamics driving immigration, the incredible risks people take daily to cross the border to the U.S., and the experience of those living now in the shadows in our own community. Yet the novel is never didactic… If you've ever wondered who are the men gathered along city boulevards waiting patiently for work, or why anyone would risk such predation and hardship to cross our border, this book's for you. If you're not interested? Read it anyway; it's a compulsively good story."The Oregonian

    “John Vaillant's woozy heartbreaker of a novel...Waiting and hoping are the wrenching activities that drive Vaillant’s debut novel, which potently deploys the conventions of the sands--through-the-hourglass thriller to depict the condition of a proud populace in full crisis mode...The Jaguar’s Children leavens these elements with a voice fresh and plangent.”Boston Globe 


    "Fascinating ... For anyone wanting to truly understand the onslaught of illegal Mexican immigration to the United States, look no further than this book. It's a timely, gorgeously written example of how great fiction can prove more illuminating than even the most stirring nonfiction."Dallas Morning News 


    "Mr. Vaillant writes with empathy and solicitude...[The Jaguar's Children] sensitively exposes a continuing human-rights travesty."Wall Street Journal 


    “A terrifying border tale…though the geography of the story is that of Cormac McCarthy, the plot shares more territory with Edgar Allan Poe…an end that is improbable, dripping with irony, and entirely satisfying. Border fiction has a new top-shelf title.”Jon Billman, Outside  


    "[A] devastatingly powerful first novel...The Jaguar’s Children is harrowing and beautiful, brilliant and exhausting. The concept is inspired, the plot simple and stark and terrible, the pacing inexorable. The ending is wholly unexpected in the great tradition of magical realism. This is the total package."—Lone Star Literary 


    "Devastating ... A bold, heartbreaking novel suffused with love for a beleaguered country."Toronto Star 


    "Fearless."Globe and Mail 


    "Vaillant writes with power and emotion, affection and respect for the Zapotec people and lands...An eloquent literary dissection of the divide between the United States and Mexico."Kirkus, starred review 


    "Vaillant, whose international best sellers include The Golden Spruce (a Governor General’s Award winner) and The Tiger, a memorably burning-bright book, turns to fiction with results that are 'riveting.'"Library Journal, starred review 


    "Vaillant's timely first novel captures both the straitened circumstances of hardworking campesinos and the humanity and raw desperation of a man slowly giving in to hopelessness."Booklist 


    "A dramatic, tense novel...the importance of its themes, which closely mirror life, cannot be doubted."Publishers Weekly 


    "John Vaillant is in the business of writing masterpieces. But this first novel will make his many followers fall over in shock. Vaillant sees the tragedy of human predation on the border for what it is—a real-world horror worthy of Stephen King. This book rushes at you relentless as a nightmare and doesn't let up until it kicks out the walls. Settle in. You're going to need a stiff drink. Make it ice water." —Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil's Highway, Into the Beautiful North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter 


    “Like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, John Vaillant’s The Jaguar’s Children will be read for a long time to come. It is a major social novel."Philipp Meyer, author of The Son and American Rust 


    “Like all great castaway stories, John Vaillant’s stirring novel is a tale of Betweens.  His characters, stranded inside an abandoned water tanker somewhere on the frontier, are between life and death; north and south; between the rich culture of their home, and a voracious pan-national corporate culture that will devour it.  They are messengers with big news, and they are stranded in a nightmare of limbo.  The novel had me from the first page.  The premise is gripping, Vaillant's language has the clear, inarguable ring of a knuckle knocking against a steel drum, and the story telling is rich and lyrical.  It is a brave work.”Peter Heller, bestselling author of The Dog Stars and The Painter 


    "The Jaguar's Children is devastating. It's at once a literary mystery, an engrossing tour de force, and a brilliant commentary on humanity's role in the physical world. The voice that echoes out from that abandoned place Vaillant so masterfully creates won't leave me."—Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road and The Orenda  


    "I have long admired the visceral storytelling and moral complexity of John Vaillant’s brilliant non-fiction about humankind’s tragically ambivalent relationship with the natural world. Now he brings his abundant literary gifts to a debut novel set in a very real borderland in which human beings are themselves treated like animals. The Jaguar’s Children is a beautifully rendered lament for an imperiled culture and the brave lives that would preserve it. You should read it." —John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road and The Commoner  


    “In The Jaguar’s Children we enter the dangerous borderlands between countries and generations; myth and magic; human community and the vast, infinitely mysterious, wild environment. Here, John Vaillant