Book review: One Life, by David Lida

David Lida is an author who found a home for himself in Mexico 25 years ago. He tells the story of his first visit to Puerto Escondido, when he started wondering what life is like for the Mexicans who live a few blocks away from the centre of town. Thanks to the Lockett v Ohio Supreme Court decision of 1978, he got his wish, along with a means of living in Mexico and earning a living.

The deal is, in all cases in the US where the death penalty is in play, a mitigation study must be done on behalf of the defendant. If the defendant is Latino, it’s important that the person who does the study is capable of speaking decent Spanish, and can interview relatives and contacts (teachers, former employers, etc.) in all parts of Mexico. So, Lida landed a job as a mitigation specialist.

What Lida has done, by publishing this book, is let us in on some of the many insights into Mexico’s less-prosperous areas that he has developed. The main character of One Life, Esperanza, is obviously a composite. She grew up in a dirt-poor Mexican town. She goes to a city, where conditions are better, and gets a job as a housekeeper. She meets a guy who is no good, and loses the job because of it. She goes to Ciudad Juarez (a very dangerous place for women) for a job in a “maquiladora”. Eventually, she ends up in New Orleans working to clean up the Hurricane Katrina damage. (That’s right, Mexicans and other Central Americans did this.) She has a child, the child dies, and she is accused of murdering it.

That’s where the narrator, Richard, enters the story. His task is to go to different places in Mexico and Louisiana to interview people who knew Esperanza, with the hope of getting some infomation about her that her lawyer can use to convince the prosecutors that she does not deserve the death penalty. The reader gets, through Richard’s eyes, insights into Mexico that are rarely found elsewhere. And it isn’t just about the poverty mentioned elsewhere in this review. Richard describes the quality of the food and the coffee, the religious celebrations, and how Mexicans outside Mexico’s affluent areas live their lives. Lida’s attempt to communicate to us what life is like for millions of Mexicans is a success.

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