BOOK REVIEW – Saint Death by Marcus SedgwickSaint Death by Marcus Sedgwick
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A potent, powerful and timely thriller about migrants, drug lords and gang warfare set on the US/Mexican border by PRINTZ MEDAL winning and CARNEGIE MEDAL, COSTA BOOK AWARD and GUARDIAN CHILDREN'S FICTION PRIZE shortlisted novelist, Marcus Sedgwick.

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez - twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America - the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he's been working for. He's dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he's on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they're as good as dead.

Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) - she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

I can’t escape it. I woke up this morning and it was the first thing in my mind. I do realize that I’m probably going to bore/offend/annoy some of you, but as much as I’m sorry about that, I can’t stay silent.


At first, I found that I didn’t have much to say. Or perhaps I had so much to say and so little looking appropriate for this review at first glance – but maybe this is the mark of great books. Maybe there’s something magical about a book that makes your thoughts whirl endlessly. With Saint Death, Marcus Sedgwick manages to immerse the reader into the harsh life of Arturo, a young Mexican living near the border of the United States, between narco gangs and maquiladoras. We meet him just before the reappearance of Faustino, his best friend, is about to change his life.


And I hear you – I hear you telling me that this is not a subject you want to deal with in your books. That you get enough of that in the news, thank you very much. However, as much as I get it, I genuinely think that we can’t afford to be blind anymore. We can’t. Not when so many people die every day to sustain our way of life. Not when we’re surrounded by biased reports and white privileges – call it as you want : western privileges, if you prefer, I don’t care, it’s living and brewing even when we don’t want to see it.

And I’m going to add something about France, again, and I’m sorry if you think that it’s not the point but I’m not really sorry because it shows, yes, it shows how fucking blind we became. Lately there are so many complains about the way foreigners and refugees are treated, as if they were stealing the bread out of Real French mouths’ and I want to vomit. We’re talking about a country where nobody knows how much a cancer treatment costs because it is free. We’re talking about a country where school is free from 3 to 16, where free medical care is offered to any unemployed person.

Let this sink in.

We’re talking about a country whose whole system is built upon solidarity – 9% of my salary pays for retirement pensions. Not for mine, but for the current retired people who paid for their fathers and grandmothers before me. For this system to work we need to trust others to do the same for us when time comes. I love this system. I don’t want to change it. I don’t want to pay for my pension and see less lucky people, who don’t have a stable job, slowly crumble when 65 comes. But one thing is sure : we won’t be able to sustain it if we’re too busy fighting over our little euros. If we’re too busy losing ourselves, our identity, over some selfish way of thinking. Because meanwhile, people are dying every day of awful living conditions, of poverty and of war and we let them and for what? FOR WHAT? Because it’s easier to stay blind and believe simplistic speeches than stop for one second and ask ourselves how can we look in the mirror every day and let people die? Because we don’t want to hear about it and start wondering what is so fucking special about us apart from our birth place?

I hate that nowadays, people who show basic human decency are called dumb, brainwashed liberals. Showing some kind of basic EMPATHY shouldn’t be political.

I hate that nowadays, you can’t express your fury and despair about the way the refugee crisis is handled without getting the sadly famous answer, “you can take them to your home if you’re so sad”.

THIS IS HARDLY THE POINT. I’m merely asking for my government to use the taxes I pay wisely, and by wisely I mean : yes, taking care of the refugees is an emergency.

I hate that people are feeling more offended over the 25€ per day that taking care of one refugee in an official center (in France) costs than the billions our politicians make every day while spreading cynical and hateful speeches.

I hate that I don’t recognize myself in my country anymore.

I hate that papers have to actually WRITE an article to remind people that no, it’s not okay to let insufferable comments under their news posts on Facebook.

I hate that so, so much.

I hate that we’re so fucking blind and selfish that thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean sea do not even create an electroshock effect on the European inhabitants.

I hate, hate, hate to read stupid comments comparing nowadays refugees to French people in 1940 and stating that “we stayed to fight”.

People. Please. It’s common knowledge that most French either collaborated or LET IT HAPPEN. The resistance fighters were amazing and deserve our recognition, but they weren’t that many before 1944/45.

I hate the ignorance that makes people say, “they’re not even from Syria! They’re from Soudan and Eritrea!” as if they were making some kind of point. HAVE YOU LOOKED AT WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE IN ERITREA AND SOUDAN TODAY? HAVE YOU?

I hate that 4,500 refugees out of a population of 65,000,000 is called an invasion.

I hate that reading Saint Death made me think, oh my god, there too, oh my god.

Yes, I’ve been drawing similarities from the first page of Saint Death. Admittedly, I know nothing of the way the general market works in America, but let me infer from what I read and notice how similar our situations are. Whether in the US or in Europe, we let big societies tell us that it’s okay to exploit people if it’s for our own benefice, that it’s okay if they earn billions because really, they must have deserved it, right? They took their fate into their hands, right? Who cares if their rules are so unfair it makes me want to throw up, right? I mean, poor people wouldn’t have any job without these big societies, right?


Well, I guess that the difference between France and the US is the general distrust we feel for big societies in general – but it changes nothing in the end.

We’re still letting people die at our doors and we’re washing our hands on it. More than the sole story of Arturo, as captivating and moving this story is, this is what Saint Death is about. This is also a really well-written and well-researched novel that draws you in and never lets you go. Please read it.