Friday, November 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW | Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez by Marjorie Agosín

Memory is the only witness that
Remembers the women of Juárez
Now statues,
Scattered bones,
Heads and little ears.

Haunting. Melodic. Tragic. Hearthbreaking. Necessary. These are the words I would use to describe this book of poetry.

Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez is a collection of poetry written by Marjorie Agosín about the missing women of Juárez. From 2008 to 2013 over 211 girls have gone missing, but the murders have been going on since the 90s. The most disturbing issue of all is that the government has done nothing about it. In the introduction to these poems, written by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman, she writes that Mexico is a country with a "machista" culture that "often accuses women of provoking their abusers." With this kind of victim-blaming perpetuating the minds of those who are in charge, it's not surprising to see that there hasn't been much progress made towards stopping these murders.

She dreams about borders
A knife parts her in two
North and South
The body of a woman lies
In the middle of the night
In the middle of the day
In the middle of the light
On the border no one finds her
The desert petrifies her memory
The wind erases sounds
Everything is a darkness without sunlight.

She has crossed borders
And doesn't return home
Her mother wanders about crying
And looks for but does not find her

She crosses borders
Wakefulness and dream
Ashes and bonfires.

Agosín's goal was to give these women a voice. They have been permanently silences and are suffering a second death because of the negligence of the government. These murders have been going on for over 20 years with no change in the system or in the enforcement of the law. Agosín uses free verse, often conflating herself with the victims and reminding all women that in another time, in another place, or even tomorrow in your home, it could be you.

News Reports

The news report of Ciudad Juárez
Announces another death
The child says that it looks like the same woman
All of those women are the same, the father replies
The mother prepares the food
She sees herself in those women
The news report continues
They announce the winners of the soccer tournament
The child asks his mother why
They always kill the same woman
The mother's voice is strange
Like that of a little girl
And a well of silence
Forms on her sad mouth.

By using free verse, Agosín is able to give a voice to the traumatic experiences of the women who were murdered and the women who have been left behind. Sometimes I had to read a certain poem over and over until I understood it, and other times I read it over and over because it was just that powerful. Combining the Introduction, Poems and Afterword, there are only 143 pages in this book. (Which you can also cut in half because half of it is in Spanish on one side and English on the other, so if you're not bilingual, it will go even faster.)

This book has easily become one of my personal favorites. I really appreciate the accessibility of Agosín's style. Had she tried to make her poems more complicated, she may have run the risk of taking away from the violence. Instead, she made sure her poems were succinct, easy to understand and straight to the point - given the women of Juárez and the women who are terrified for their lives a powerful and booming voice.


  1. I'm not the biggest fan of poetry basically because it's not accesible to everybody. I always had troubles with it while in school and now at Uni as well and so my relationship with it it's not the greatest hahaha
    Anyhow, the story behind those poems is what is interesting and then read how those women expressed it. And also, thank you for writing a few verses, because they weren't hard to understand and so it might be a good book to try and read poetry =)

    1. I agree with poetry being inaccessible to some, but I think that's why I loved Agosin's poems so much. They're not difficult at all. Because if they were difficult, she would run the risk of burying these women's voices even MORE, so she had to keep them simple. If you're going to introduce yourself to poetry, I'd definitely recommend this one. And it's written in Spanish and English! :-)

  2. I don't read much poetry, but Secrets in Sand sounds really good, Jules. Great review.
    Have a fantastic weekend!

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    1. Thanks, Lexxie! It's a super easy read so if you give it a go, let me know. I think you'll really love it. :-)