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The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail
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The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,588 ratings  ·  212 reviews
One day a few years ago, 300 migrants were kidnapped between the remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got 120 released, many with broken ankles and other marks of abuse, but the rest vanished. Óscar Martínez, a young writer from El Salvador, was in Altar soon after the abduction, and his account of the migrant disappearances is only one ...more
Hardcover, 275 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by Verso (first published June 1st 2010)
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Average rating 4.32  · 
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 ·  1,588 ratings  ·  212 reviews

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Mikey B.
Apr 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is about migrants in Mexico. The first part of the book (over half) investigates migrants in the south of Mexico who cross the border in Guatemala. Most of these are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They are escaping poverty, crime – seeking a better life in El Norte (the U.S.). Admittedly some of these migrants belonged to gangs and are fleeing violence in their own country.

The conditions they encounter in southern Mexico are horrendous. Since they are illegal they cannot see
Divya Gopinath
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Context: I've been on a reading binge that focuses on immigration to the USA. I think I have a decent understanding of the internal American policies and a sense of the push/pull factors that lead people to decide to come here, at least as much as a privileged US citizen can "understand" these things. This book was essential to fill in the gaps of exactly how people cross the border. It's really not as simple as one day you up and leave your home, family, and heritage. It's a long and arduous jo ...more
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for all politicians. I was often teary-eyed as I read this book, yet ultimately horrified at what so many Central American immigrants experience as they journey through Mexico. Written by a journalist from El Salvador, Oscar Martinez interviews migrants and locals as he experiences the Migrant trail.
AnHeC the Paperback Obliterator
Jan 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
"We're walking among the dead. Life's value seems reduced, continuously dangled like bait on a fishing line. Killing, dying, reaping, or getting raped - the dimensions of these horrors are diminished to points of geography. Here on this rock, they rape. There by that bush, they kill"

"He's going to talk because it's not like he's accused of a serious crime. We don't have anyone accused of serious crimes here. They're accused of murder, rape, or robbery. Never of drug trafficking"

"She said it was
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Living in Nicaragua, I regularly meet people who have migrated or want to migrate to neighbouring countries. I’ve also met people who take their chances going to Spain without a visa (including one who claimed to be going ‘by bus’; she was actually going to El Salvador). I know people who’ve migrated to the US and made enough money to come back on visits. But I’ve never met anyone preparing to make the trip north by land, following the migrant trails to Texas or New Mexico, and then crossing the ...more
Jun 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I dedicate this review to 70,000 missing migrants, to the 100,000 dead from the Mexican drug war and the 8 out 10 migrant women who are raped as they travel el norte. It is a small witnessing, but I do it for you.
As the lights flicker a little bit in the American empire, we see the cracks in facade, but we must remember that we still cast a very large shadow, and we must remember those in the shadows. There isn’t a more forgotten or scorned people on this continent than the central American mig
This account is immediately gripping & I have great respect for the author & his photographer trekking along with the migrants -- it could almost be considered the same as war reporters on the front lines.

While I'm not within immediate access of the Mexican/US border, I am in the South, so we have a relatively large migrant population here. Not everything I read is new to me -- I was aware that there were dangers & knew some of what was faced. But, it's one thing to know that the dangers exist,
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"For me, good journalism has the ability to fulfill two basic roles: illuminating the darkest corners of our society so we can begin to see what goes on in them; and making things more difficult for the corrupt, the abusive, and the merciless, so that things might become a little easier for the needy. . .

I don’t think compassion is that useful. I don’t think it’s a durable engine for change. I see it as a passing sentiment, a feeling too easy to forget. In Mexico, every time we presented the Spa
Apratim Mukherjee
Sep 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about illegal migrants. The author has travelled from southern Mexico from villages to migrant shelters to US border and has recorded heart wrenching stories of many migrants. He also interviews and puts forward stories of the other sides i.e. of coyotes, narcos, US Border officials present a balanced view of this migrant crisis.
There are lots of migrants crossing from Mexico to USA, some legally and many illegaly. A lot of these illegal migrants come from central America
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
It is a wonder that certain books exist. That that story is being told, never mind the literary necessities of it. The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood is one of those, going places no one wants to go, telling stories no one is interested in recounting.

The Beast, similarly is a rare non-fiction book that is astounding for the stories it chooses to tell, for showcasing a version of a hell very difficult to imagine in comfortable existences. This is not utopian imagination
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, non-fiction

3.5 stars

This was such an expansive and informative work. I don't think many people could read this and deny the work and research Martinez poured into it. I truly knew very little about the migrant trails before reading this, and was constantly overwhelmed by their reality while reading. I took a lot away from The Beast, and have new context for any news stories or political discussions about migrants and other issues at the border.

I think that for the most part, Martinez presented a balanced
Jul 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I received an ARC of this book, and after just 16 pages, I have to say I'm really excited for all that this book can present. The voice is honest and easy to read, and the topic very relevant. I'm looking forward to finishing it and seeing how my teen readers would react to this.

My opinion on this book remained at the top throughout my reading of it. It was an amazing journey, one which I was ignorant of, and now one that I can erase from my mind. The author travels the migrant trail and trains
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail is about Óscar Martínez, a journalist from El Salvador, who goes along the Migrant Trail (the usual route migrants from Central America take up through Mexico and to the USA) to tell their stories.

This book really shocked me when I read it. I honestly didn't know much about the lives of migrants before reading it with much of my knowledge coming from distanced news reports about things in Mexico that didn't affect me. But The Be
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sieved through a journalistic lens, Salvadoran writer Óscar Martínez chronicles the journey of Central American migrants fleeing north on "La Bestia," the Beast. The Beast is a train known amongst those that have uprooted themselves from their homes in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Beginning at a slow lurch, the Beast is fairly accessible to those looking for a ride. Martínez is able to choose enriched ethnographic moments that leave the reader aghast and shaken by the harsh realities an ...more
Jun 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-non-fiction
The Rio Grande makes up roughly 900 of the nearly 2000 mile international border between the United States and Mexico. It is its own natural abbreviation, cutting short the lives of many migrants and fitting as Martinez brought his journalistic examination to a close. The river meanders and runs roughshod through the desert, at times coursing at a breakneck pace and other times teeming with eddies and just shallow enough to traverse. The risk is high. While Border Patrol is ubiquitous in a migra ...more
Lindsay Vlasak
May 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was so good. Heartbreaking, but worth it in order to learn more about the Central American migrants who risk everything for the chance of a better life in the United States. After reading American Dirt, and seeing the controversy it provoked, I wanted to read about this subject from a Central American author. Oscar Martinez is a Salvadoran investigative journalist who spent two years traveling with migrants through Mexico. My favorite quote from the book comes from the afterword - “I’m not ...more
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
‘The Beast’ uses the story of La Bestia, the freight trains that ferry migrants through Mexico, to tell the story of migration from Central America to the US border.
If you believe in a just world where we all have opportunity, and that good or bad things happen for a reason, and people are inherently good... read this book and disabuse yourself of the notion. Find yourself in awe of the struggle to reach the border and the implacable forces arrayed against the migrant. I’ve never read something
Vishal Misra
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a deeply powerful book, and one that everyone with an interest in migration, its patterns, hazards and motivations should read. "The Beast" is, simply put, the cargo trains that run the length of Mexico, and it is ridden by Central American migrants, predominantly from one of three countries. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These three countries are three of the poorest in the region, and they are the most violent corridor on the planet, in terms of the homicide rate per 100,000 cit ...more
May 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I borrowed this after reading about the controversy re: American Dirt, and saw it as a recommended read for more authentic narratives of Central American migrant crossing written by someone with shared background with the migrants. If ever I think any personal experience is hard, or wonder how deep the roots of trauma run, I will remember how much these people risk and lose and bear. Just for the smallest chance of having the smallest part of what so many of us, myself included, have been given ...more
Neal Leslie
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
First off Oscar Martinez is a brilliant writer. Translated from the Spanish, Martinez's talent still shines. It's somewhat cliche to write that something reads like a novel. But The Beast absolutely does.

Traveling with Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty on their way to El Norte or the US, Martinez tells the migrant story, and it's not a pleasant one. It's one of abuse, murder, rape, torture and ransom. And everyone profits off the migrants from the train operators to the coyotes to
this book incited too many feelings: rage, compassion, sadness, despair, frustration, rage, hopelessness. It is a book that overwhelms. I thought I knew their journey. I thought that because I'd worked with them in that detention center years ago, that I knew what they suffered. I thought I knew that the system was corrupt, that the path here was dangerous and the cartels more so. This book showed me how little I knew. How much those detainees from long ago kept from me. How much things have wor ...more
Jun 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary book. This is a must-read for anyone interested in truly understanding the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Central Americans making the perilous journey north across Mexico with hopes of reaching the U.S. What you read in these pages will surprise even those who think they have a solid understanding of this topic. It offers a thorough and nuanced view of the factors driving migration, the daily dangers for migrants, the shifting landscape that is increasingly ruthlessly cont ...more
Feb 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A highly evocative series of essays about the experiences of migrants headed from Central America to the USA without a visa. The essays tackle a variety of scenarios - from the precarious of the train that gives the book its name, complete with decapitation risk, the search for coyotes in border towns, and the experiences of Mexican cities. The last essays deal with what happens on the northern side of the border. It is a catalogue of horrors, told with empathy and respect for those who decide t ...more
Susan Mabry
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oscar Martinez researched for two years by living with the Central American migrants and following their journey with them. He interviewed countless people besides the migrants to give you a realistic picture of the migrant trail, from priests, border control, rural farmers, bandits, politicians, gangsters, drug cartel and brothel heads...

This book has given me compassion and RAGE over the hopeless, systemic deaths and abuse of the migrants on their journey to the US promise land. Much to think
Julian Douglass
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic story with real world implications. Mr. Martinez shows us in great detail what these migrants who want to travel to the United States go through. The stories that he tell of, both as to why they want to go to the United States and their troubles really make you grieve for these migrants and hope that all of them find a way to get to the US safely. However, in our current political climate, and the incompleteness of Enrique Pena Nieto, none of this is likely to happen, but thi ...more
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oscar Martinez captures the grim reality of Central Americans as they make their way north to the US/Mexico border riding atop ‘La Bestia’: 8 out of 10 women will be raped— others still are sold into prostitution. Travelers are constantly at risk of losing their lives or limbs falling from the train. Men, women, and children are on their own against ruthless drug cartels, bandits, exploitative coyotes, and mass kidnappings. All this before arriving at the border with its wall, sensors, helicopte ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Martinez is a journalist who walked, ate, slept, and rode alongside migrants making the long and dangerous journey from Central America, through Mexico, to attempt entry to the United States. It really helped me understand the situation many migrants are in -- and very worth reading. If interested, you may want to search for Martinez's videos online. I found this one particularly interesting: ...more
Tony Robledo
Oct 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is such an important book, it describes a humanitarian crisis of a huge magnitude which nobody talks about or unfortunately cares about. While attention is directed to the European refugee crisis, the Central American migrant crisis is going on and nobody is talking about it, and in the meantime these people are forced to live among violence, poverty and corrupt governments.
Sep 06, 2017 rated it liked it
This book enhanced my understanding of the horrific conditions in Central America and exactly what people are fleeing when they head north. It started out strong, but slowed down toward the middle, felt somewhat repetitive and rambling, and lacked a cohesive theme. I read it on Kindle, and was also distracted by numerous typos. In all, glad I read it, but can't wholeheartedly recommend. ...more
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enlightening book, really gives you perspective, especially with the wave of child immigrants currently crossing the border alone.
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Óscar Martínez writes for, the first online newspaper in Latin America. The original edition of his book Los migrantes que no importan was published in 2010 by Icaria and El Faro, with a second edition by Mexico’s sur+ Ediciones in 2012. Martínez is currently writing chronicles and articles for El Faro’s project, Sala Negra, investigating gang violence in Latin America. In 2008, Martíne ...more

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