In seven days, Sofía Nayeli Bazán, 18, wrote the story of Andrea, a Guatemalan teenager who leaves her family in the city of Antigua to get on a The beast, the freight train that Central American migrants climb onto bound for a better life in the United States, or at least away from misery, violence and inequality. If they survive one of the most dangerous cross-border travel in the world. She wrote day and night until her eyes closed. The deadline to submit to the 15th edition of the SM Jordi Sierra i Fabra award for young people was running out. He managed to deliver on time and took the award with The beast.
Andrea, the protagonist of the novel, appeared in Bazán’s head in the summer of 2019 on a family trip to the Chiapas region, in southern Mexico, the border with Guatemala. It was the first time she had returned to the North American country since she had moved back to Spain with her family a little over two years ago. Of a Spanish mother and a Mexican father, she was born in Alicante. Two months later – “when I could get on a plane”, he clarifies in a telephone conversation from Murcia, where he now lives – he moved to Mexico City.
On his vacation trip to Chiapas he met Central American migrants waiting to get on the train. “They were on the Suchiate river, on the roads, walking through the jungle,” he explains. These people had been around his head for some time. Her grandmother, the chemist bacteriologist who likes to travel, the storyteller who helped shape her granddaughter’s magical thinking since she was a child, had already told her about them. See them. Having them in front of him, although he did not get to see The beast, finished convincing her. “It is a very harsh and sad reality,” she recalls.
She parked another book that she had started – she says she has been writing since she was four years old – and on a road trip, back to her hotel in Chiapas, lying in the back of the van her family had rented, she wrote the prologue in verse . “The train of death / a lethal weapon of sinister size / It carries on its back, a steel back / which bullet in the chamber, / its prey, small, weak and defenseless. / At any moment the trigger is pulled. / The bullets are fired, / dying as the road dies. / Like bullets, the victims; / as a way, the tracks. / And as a weapon, as a monster, / the great train: / The beast”.
Bazán writes in the first person. “To tell a situation like this, you have to describe the girl’s feelings and thoughts. And this is the best way to do it, ”says the young woman who wants to study psychology, but without abandoning literature.
The first thing that was clear is that the protagonist would be a girl. With the help of a friend of her family, a Mexican journalist, and the memories of her grandmother’s stories, she discovered that, contrary to what seems to be a general perception, to The beast women of all ages also get on. “Among all the information I found, I read that girls dress up as boys in order to reduce the risks of gender violence,” says Bazán. Andrea, the protagonist, cuts her hair and bandages her breast, on the advice of her mother.
The author takes her character through all the stops that separate Antigua from the US The tour was armed with the information she found in the media. “I consulted more than one newspaper to contract the data,” she says. And when the data she needed did not appear in a medium, she turned to other Internet tools. “I’ve never been to Guatemala,” he says, “that’s why I used Google Maps to have an image in my head of the journey that the protagonist makes between Guatemala and Mexico.”
The result is a mix between the journalistic chronicle – in the purest Latin American style, due to the profusion of details in the descriptions – and a travel diary. A commitment to “realism”, as she herself describes the book, away from the fantastic literature of one of its references, Laura Gallego. “I am interested in the issues of inequality and psychological disorders,” he says, “although I would like to try different styles, it is more difficult for me to narrate fantasy worlds, in the end they are different from the ones I know.”
In his years in Mexico, Bazán learned that “inequality is a weapon.” That “the richest population tends to treat the poorest with superiority.” For this reason, Andrea says at one point in the book: “We are nobody to ask to be remembered”. The author recognizes herself in the hopelessness of her protagonist. And at the same time she intends to turn her novel into the opposite, “into a message of hope.” “There are many migrants who manage to reach the United States and thus help their families.”
Author: Sofia Nayeli Bazán
Format: Rustic paper. 9.95 euros