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.
(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
“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)