Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter
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A New York Times Editors' Choice book
The haunting story of a daughter's struggle to confront her father's turbulent-and often violent-legacy
After a fourteen-year estrangement, Maria Venegas returns to Mexico from the United States to visit her father, who is living in the old hacienda where both he and she were born. While spending the following summers and holidays together, herding cattle and fixing barbed-wire fences, he begins sharing stories with her, tales of a dramatic life filled with both intense love and brutal violence-from the final conversations he had with his own father, to his extradition from the United States for murder, to his mother's pride after he shot a man for the first time at the age of twelve.
Written in spare, gripping prose, Bulletproof Vest is Venegas's reckoning with her father's difficult legacy. Moving between Mexico and New York, between past and present, Venegas traces her own life and her father's as, over time, a new closeness and understanding develops between them. Bulletproof Vest opens with a harrowing ambush on Venegas's father while he's driving near his home in Mexico. He survives the assault-but years later the federales will find him dead near the very same curve, and his daughter will be left with not only the stories she inherited from him but also a better understanding of the violent undercurrent that shaped her father's life as well as her own.
He kept going on and on about his wife and kids, saying he would pay anything, do anything, he would leave the area, anything if they would please, for the love of God, just let him live. His ankles and wrists were tied with rope and it was uncomfortable to see a man squirm on the ground and beg like that. “Shut him up,” he told his friend, but the imbecile was having second thoughts, saying, maybe they should let the man go. Let him go? You don’t drag a man out into the desert in the middle of
opened the gate to my corral.” “Are you calling my brother a thief?” Antonio said. “You do know what they do to cattle thieves around here, don’t you?” “Look, Antonio, I don’t want to have any problems with you…” “Let me tell you what the problem is, Fidel, just so there aren’t any misunderstandings,” Antonio said, flicking his hat up and leaning forward in his saddle. “The problem is you chasing my brothers down the river and shooting at them as if they were a couple of dogs. That’s the
shrug. The officer is looking at us as if contemplating something, and years from now Sonia will run into a retired officer from that town. “Oh, you Venegas kids,” he will say, “we used to talk about you at the station, we worried about what would become of you.” Perhaps what they worried about was that, once we grew up, we might keep them busy for years to come. “Can you park a police car in our driveway and leave it there?” I ask, though we’ve made this request before, have told them about
from me, waiting. “I’m moving,” I say. “What? Why?” they ask, in unison, practically. They’re all here: Frida Chávez, Mirna Escobar, Fabiola Huertas, Maribel Torres, Juana Moreno, Norma García, and Araceli Ortega—this is my group of friends, or my “gang” as Mr. Kauffman, the principal, had referred to them on the day he called me down to his office. He sat eyeing me from behind his wide, wooden desk, his plump fingers crossed and resting on the smooth surface. “What’s the name of your gang?” he
a bit. “That’s what the papers said?” “Ey,” I say. “You didn’t know that?” “No,” he says, laughing a little harder, and I guess it makes sense that he wouldn’t know, as he was in intensive care for two weeks afterward, the doctor telling us that my father was lucky to be alive, how the blade had missed his jugular by a hair. “Imagine that? Killing a man over a goddamn beer,” he says, and he’s laughing so hard that it makes me start laughing, and soon we’re both leaning against his truck,