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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

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,030 ratings  ·  146 reviews
One day a few years ago,300 migrants were kidnapped betweenthe remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico,and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got120 released, many with broken anklesand other marks of abuse, but the restvanished. Óscar Martínez, a youngwriter from El Salvador, was in Altarsoon after the abduction, and his accountof the migrant disappearances is onlyone of the ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by Verso (first published 2010)
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Average rating 4.35  · 
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 ·  1,030 ratings  ·  146 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
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
Paul M.
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, netgalley
Oscar Martinez takes us on a trip through Mexico's immigration routes, riding the back of The Beast-the train- from Central America to El Norte, and doesn't let us take a step back and look at it from a distance. He rides with and talks to those escaping violence, those just looking for a better life, and those who perpetrate the violence on others. He talks to Zetas and Border Patrol Agents, coyotes and polleros, but most heartbreaking are the stories of those who face maiming accidents, ...more
Nov 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Stacia by: Eliana
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
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.
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
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
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 ...more
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 ...more
Charles Berteau
This book is an illuminating read, and adds some anecdotal information behind the political rhetoric of illegal migration. It brought immediately to mind two points:

1) As Stalin supposedly said, "the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic". I think our immigration rhetoric is a bit like this. I think, on a human level, we would each be touched by the tragedies that drive specific people and families to take INCREDIBLE risks to reach the United States. But in the
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
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 ...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 ...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, ...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:
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.
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.
Mara White
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heart wrenching, terrifying and completely overwhelming.
Scott Martin
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an enlightening and difficult book to read. This work follows the writer as he journeys along with migrants from Central America, especially from Honduras and El Salvador, as people try to flee from lives of violence and struggle. Yet, the journey is brutal and difficult. Central to the travel is the rail network that people use to travel up to Mexico and towards the US. Known as the Beast, it is a passenger train where most of the migrants ride on the outside of the train. It is ...more
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nhhp, 5-star-books, novel
The Beast by Oscar Martinez takes the reader from one end of Mexico to the other. Every route north is fraught with assault, rape, abduction, ransom, extortion, deception, maiming, dismemberment, decapitation, hanging, torture, and death. No one makes that journey without witnessing or experiencing one, or many, of those horrors.

What prompts the journey north? The first answer is usually, "a better life". But Martinez does slow journalism. He rides the same beast that the migrants do, walks the
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book contains extensively documented accounts by a Salvadoran reporter on the fate of Central American migrants and their pursuit of "la vida mejor" ("a better life") in the United States. Martinez follows his subjects (mostly men and women from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) across rivers, into shelters, on the tops of trains, into brothels, and into no man's lands near the U.S./Mexican border. Almost all of the migrants are fleeing their countries due to epidemic levels of ...more
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a highly topical selection for book club considering the "border crisis" that's facing our country. The author is on the ground, traveling with migrants from Central America, through the dangerous ranches just north of the border, where migrants are lucky not to be assaulted or raped, on to the frightful ride on top of The Beast, the train that migrants hitch a ride on, trying to hang on for dear life and avoid the various gangs along the way. He joins migrants as they reach the US ...more
Matt Fitz
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
El Salvadorian journalist, Óscar Martinez, wrote this book while in his 20s. He courageously embedded himself with those migrating or fleeing (he explains the distinction) their home countries to learn their stories. Prepare to be heartbroken. Prepare to have raw nerves hit with a jolt.

Although this is a bit dated (9 years) it doesn't necessarily change the need to take a look at WHY people do what they do and not just the WHAT and WHERE. As he says himself, "to understand a group of people we
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable & unique read, it really changed my perspective on the journey many migrants face coming to the US. I would never have said it was safe, but I severely underestimated how dangerous it was. The book details quite strongly just how much of an INDUSTRY is built around exploiting & robbing migrants. Something like a majority of women (per the book) are assaulted/raped on the journey. It's pervasive.

The work could have been better if it took a more standard anthropological
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A really good book that documents the flow of people from Central America to the United States. (I'm reading in 2018 and the subject is very much in the forefront of US politics right now.) This book mostly focuses on the journey of the migrant, the dangers, the violence and exploitation, and the few who have compassion for them.

It largely stays out of the actual politics of immigration in the US which is a strength of the book. Immigration is a political issue as well as a human issue; the two
Brave (hell, fearless) journalist’s horrifying account of Central American migrants’ journey to El Norte. The book is a solid 4.5 stars for me because it is bit disjointed (and redundant) since it’s comprised of different stories Martínez wrote for, but it’s still one-of-a-kind and extremely compelling. I am so fed up with people’s misconceptions and plain hatred of undocumented people here in the U.S. Some of these articles should be required reading... I definitely feel much more ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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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, ...more
“Where can you steer clear of bandits? Where do the drugs go over? Where can you avoid getting kidnapped by the narcos? Where is there a spot left with no wall, no robbers, and no narcos? Nobody has been able to answer this last question.” 0 likes
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