Bulletproof Vest

The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter

Maria Venegas

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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.


Read an Excerpt



(Chicago suburbs, 1987)


THE FIRST GUNSHOT snaps me out of my sleep. I lie in bed and stare at the two blinking red dots of my alarm clock: 12:35 a.m. It’s Thursday night and my father has been playing cards with the neighbors. I can almost see the eye of the gun following its target, and then the second and third shots ring out. Something is different. Whenever he drinks and fires his .45, it’s always in rapid succession, four or five bullets following one another into our front lawn or out at the night sky.

My sister Sonia



Praise for Bulletproof Vest

Praise for Bulletproof Vest

"Vividly evocative... [a] love letter written across borders of time and geography from an Americanized daughter to her quintessentially Mexican father. ...Full of richly described moments... [that seem] both real and like something out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a testament to Venegas's prose that we experience all this not as sensationalistic fantasy but as a way of life." —Zachary Lazar, New York Times Book Review

“[A]s amazing as that emotional honesty is, it's the brilliantly executed narrative structure — the stubborn refusal to give in to established perceptions about the memoir — that makes the book truly amazing. It's likely Bulletproof Vest will be taught in college classes for years to come, not just because of its brutal and heartfelt prose, but because of its technical brilliance. There are more than a thousand stories in this book, each one holding the others up and collapsing in on themselves. It's a stunning achievement, and it proves, beautifully, what the memoir can be.” —Michael Schaub, National Public Radio

“Maria Venegas beautifully charts the landscape of her father’s absence. By mapping his internal exile, she finds a way to their shared home, one known best by heart.” —Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family

“Maria Venegas is a transfixing writer. Her voice is tough, vulnerable, humorous, insightful and always rousingly alive. Whether writing about Chicago or Mexico, she possesses an extraordinary eye and feeling for place, and her characters are vivid expressions of those places. American readers have rarely encountered a depiction of Mexican lives so true, unsentimental, and moving as in this emotionally complex story of an Americanized young woman and her outlaw father who lives by the hard violent codes of Mexico profundo.” —Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name

“This is a contemporary corrido—a ballad of America, a love song to Mexico, and an intertwined family history, all brilliantly realized in sharp, precise, poetic prose.” —Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin

“The scene in which [Venegas] describes learning to shoot a gun with her father on New Year’s Eve at her family’s isolated ranch will redefine the idea of “shooting stars” for you in a way that only the clearest writing can.”—Kirkus (starred review)

In the Press

Ballads of Love and Betrayal | Work in Progress
Bulletproof Vest, Maria Venegas' debut memoir, tells the haunting story of a daughter's struggle to confront her father's turbulent
- FSG's Work in Progress
Book Keeping with Maria Venegas | Book Keeping
When I stumbled upon that line from Faulkner, I had to stop myself from whipping the book across the room
- Book Keeping

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Maria Venegas

  • Maria Venegas was born in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was four years old. Bulletproof Vest was excerpted in Granta and The Guardian. Venegas’s short stories have appeared in Ploughshares and Huizache. She has taught creative writing at Hunter College and currently works as a mentor at Still Waters in a Storm, a reading and writing sanctuary for children in Brooklyn. She lives in New York City.

  • Maria Venegas © Ricco Long


Available Formats and Book Details

Bulletproof Vest

The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter

Maria Venegas