Las tierras arrasadas
Emiliano Monge

NOVEL | 2015 | 352 pages


In the desolate wastelands between the sierra and the jungle, under an all-seeing, unforgiving sun, a single day unfolds as relentlessly as those that have gone before. People are trafficked and brutalised, illegal migrants are cheated of their money, their dreams, their very names, even as countless others scrabble to cross the border, trying to reach a land they call El Paraíso.

In this grim inferno, a fierce love has blossomed — one that was born in pain and cruelty, and one that will live or die on this day. Estela and Epitafio too were trafficked, they grew together in the brutal orphanage, fell in love, but were ripped apart. They have played an ugly role in the very system that abused them, and done the bidding of the brutal old priest for too long. They have traded in migrants, put children to work as slaves, hacked off limbs and lives without a thought, though they have never forgotten the memory of their own shackles.

Like the immigrants whose hopes they extinguish, they long to be free; free to be together and alone. Here in an unnamed land that could be a Mexico reimagined by Breughel and Dante, on the border between purgatory and inferno, where Paradise is the mouth of hell and cruelty the only currency, lives are spent, bartered and indentured for it. Must all be bankrupt among the lost?


I am sure that there is no piece of journalism that honors the voices of the migrants as much as this novel does. A writing that confronts. Poetry in the carrion.
— Lydia Cacho
This is a book of unbearable beauty and affliction. It is written with the lucidity of someone who has opened his eyes and refused to shut them again. The book’s power is not only in what it says, but in the silences that it leaves the reader’s conscience to grapple with.
— Yuri Herrera
Reading Emiliano Monge is tuning in to a secret poetry. This novel is the paradigm of a new narrative—cathartic, direct, vital, without beating around the bush.
— Berna González Harbour, Babelia
A painful and fatal chant, Las tierras arrasadas magnificently sheds light on the thousands of nameless immigrants cast on the roads. Chilling and brutal, [the book] is a compendium of humanity in search for a better life.
— Ariane Singer, Le Monde
Monge followed the track of the kidnapped, tortured and assassinated migrants, with enough compassion as to allow them to talk, or rather moan, without refusing the other truth, the one that sets the novelist apart from the journalist. Assuming that Evil is human, the author narrates not so much the back-and-forths of the victims, dead or alive, whose souls have been torn away, but of the kidnappers, traffickers of human beings, a man and woman willing to suffer through a tragic love story while they kill. In the sea of books I have read about the hell endured by migrants, about the fierce Mexico that they cross amidst of the narco wars, I suspect that Las tierras arrasadas is one that will survive.
— Christopher Domínguez Michael, El Universal
In an odyssey of relentless human cruelty, Emiliano Monge, one of the many linguistically adroit writers currently at work in what is an exciting era for Mexican fiction, spares no one. That he can succeed in generating any sympathy for his frenetic lovers is entirely due to the ferocious eloquence of his prose, which has been magnificently well served by translator Frank Wynne’s Miltonic register. Filtered through a wry, if urgent, continuous present tense, it conveys the inhumanity of the jungle and desert landscapes … Monge’s realist, deadly topical fiction is a weighty metaphor for our world gone mad. His characters, however depraved, often reveal traces of empathy, self-doubt, even suppressed horror.
— Eileen Battersby, The Observer
From the very first pages of Among the Lost, we’re engaged, and compromised … It’s a heady reading experience … Richly poetic … Monge is one of the most talented and interesting young novelists writing from today’s Mexico.
— Daniel Hahn, Spectator
With its propulsive, lyrical, and often savage present-tense narrative, Among the Lost achieves a … relentless pitch … In Monge’s hell, the suffering is of Dantean cruelty.
— Ellie Robins, Times Literary Supplement
The triumph of Among the Lost is its depiction of human suffering. In an innovative technique that again bears vague resemblance to Joyce, Monge intersperses his narrative with direct emotive accounts from migrants and asylum-seekers. Some of these passages are difficult to read. They are loaded with pathos and sentiment and are important emblems of truths amid the violence and moral corruption throughout novel: ‘This was where they first used their weapons… those who were still standing crumpled… pushing, scrabbling and jostling… desperate to be at the bottom of the heap… No one wanted to be left on top.’ Monge exposes these truths in stories that are not easy to shirk away from, with remarkable linguistic skill. An important read.
— Ronan Gerrard, The London Magazine
The novel’s tone is unsparing and grim, but Monge’s prose also includes many moments of beauty. The characters travel through a landscape that is harsh and unwelcoming but majestically rendered. Even as Estela and Epitafio, accompanied by assorted other traffickers and corrupt officials, wreak havoc and destroy lives, their inner worlds are sharply, convincingly drawn. Their personal dramas are entertaining, and their rage-filled bumbling provides occasional much-needed dark humor, at the same time as their enterprise evokes horror and disgust ... Among the Lost is a timely novel of immigration that is as beautiful as it is horrific. It is a multilayered, emotionally complex artistic triumph.
— Rebecca Hussey, Foreword Reviews
The relentless pace and vivid language, dynamically translated into English by Wynne, and including phrases from Dante and quotes from actual migrants, brings home the physical and emotional anxiety of those who have risked everything in the faint hope of a better life across the border ... In a remarkable literary feat, this tale of the dire events of one day illuminates the past, the present, and the future. While many questions remain unanswered at the end, this is a comprehensive drama of the human potential for violence and dreams in a fractured land.
— Shoba Viswanathan, Booklist (Starred Review)
It’s a brilliantly composed, dramatic and unflinching evocation of a world riven by endemic violence and extreme feeling, and an astute (if apocalyptic) road trip into the psychology of abuse.
— Cameron Woodhead, The Age
Emiliano Monge’s concussive new novel is a love story. It’s also a blood-drenched journey through a world where kindness has been obliterated and almost every moral code shredded … its emotional ferocity is astonishing.You feel appalled, compromised, profoundly moved. You wish the US President would read it. Or read, full stop.
— David Hill, Weekend Herald
A dark vision of life on the border between the inferno and an imagined paradise, this book paints an all too real picture of what people will do for a new life.
— Mitch Mott, Adelaide Advertiser (Four Stars)
The language in Among the Lost is both striking and strikingly easy to read … He channels the full spectrum of written expression, and the result hits the trifecta: beautiful, fast-paced, and completely his own.
— Lily Meyer, NPR

BY EMILIANO MONGE: No contar todo NOVEL, 2018 La superficie más honda SHORT STORIES, 2017 Las tierras arrasadas NOVEL, 2015 Los insectos invisibles CHILDREN'S, 2013 El cielo árido NOVEL, 2012 Morirse de memoria NOVEL, 2009 Arrastrar esa sombra SHORT STORIES, 2008