Marcus Sedgwick is an author I revisit from time to time. I’ve never ‘loved’ his books particularly but every one I have read has been unsettling, clever and powerful. he doesn’t really do cosy books. They have all stayed with me in their own way and each has been profoundly different from the other. When I got the chance to review Saint Death I snapped it up. I like authors who challenge me and who constantly reinvent themselves.
The last work of Sedgwick’s I read was She Is Not Invisible, a thriller with an unusual plot twist that I won’t spoil for you here. Saint Death is totally different. In some ways it reminded me very strongly of Trash by Andy Mulligan. It has the same intensity, the same kind of message and the same rawness to it.
Saint Death tells the story of Arturo, a teenage boy who came originally from Guadaloupe in search of a better life with his parents. They end up on the Mexican side of the Mexican/North American border, living in a shanty town and barely surviving. By the time the story opens, Arturo is alone, scraping a living working in a local garage and supplementing his meagre income playing cards.
His closest friend, almost brother, Faustino disappeared the year before and suddenly reappears in terrible trouble and needing Arturo’s card playing skills to get him out of a situation with one of the local gangs. Faustian needs money fast, and Arturo is the only person he can turn to for help.
The book unfolds over the space of one desperate twenty four hour period in which flashbacks and memories give us the story of Arturo’s life to date and we learn what the future will hold for the two young men. Each short chapter is interspersed with sections of reports and/or almost choral poetic pieces about the political and economic situation that has put Arturo and Faustian here.
The book is short and easy to read but what it says, backed up by Sedgwick’s own research is sometimes hard to read and it really is brutal. This is very much a book for teens rather than younger children. It pulls no punches about the life of people forced to live at the very edges of existence and who simply survive against tremendous odds.
I finished the book about a week ago and I’ve thought about it every day since. It’s one of those books, much like Trash, that I think should be required reading for everyone. It’s not comfortable, but it seems very necessary if things are ever to change, that we open our eyes to how the poorest of us live, and how things could be different if we were to do our bit, individually and collectively.