Fear Is Just a Word
A Missing Daughter, a Violent Cartel, and a Mother's Quest for Vengeance
by Azam Ahmed
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Pub Date 26 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 26 Dec 2023
Random House Publishing Group - Random House, Random House
“Azam Ahmed has written a page-turning mystery but also a stunning, color-saturated portrait of the collapse of formal justice in one Mexican town.”—Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Directorate S
A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: New Yorker, The Economist, Chicago Public Library
Fear Is Just a Word begins on an international bridge between Mexico and the United States, as fifty-six-year-old Miriam Rodríguez stalks one of the men she believes was involved in the murder of her daughter Karen. He is her target number eleven, a member of the drug cartel that has terrorized and controlled what was once Miriam’s quiet hometown of San Fernando, Mexico, almost one hundred miles from the U.S. border. Having dyed her hair red as a disguise, Miriam watches, waits, and then orchestrates the arrest of this man, exacting her own version of justice.
Woven into this deeply researched, moving account is the story of how cartels built their power in Mexico, escalated the use of violence, and kidnapped and murdered tens of thousands. Karen was just one of the many people who disappeared, and Miriam, a brilliant, strategic, and fearless woman, begged for help from the authorities and paid ransom money she could not afford in hopes of saving her daughter. When that failed, she decided that “fear is just a word,” and began a crusade to track down Karen’s killers and to help other victimized families in their search for justice.
What do people do when their country and the peaceful town where they have grown up become unrecognizable, suddenly places of violence and fear? Azam Ahmed takes us into the grieving of a country and a family to tell the mesmerizing story of a brave and brilliant woman determined to find out what happened to her daughter, and to see that the criminals who murdered her were punished. Fear Is Just a Word is an unforgettable and moving portrait of a woman, a town, and a country, and of what can happen when violent forces leave people to seek justice on their own.
"From one of the best reporters of his generation comes this masterful portrait of nightmarish violence, endless pain, and great courage. Azam Ahmed shows us what America's insatiable lust for drugs has done to one Mexican family and town just across the border. This is a work of journalistic brilliance and rare humanity." –George Packer, New York Times bestselling author of Our Man
“In his masterful investigation of one mother’s quest for answers and vengeance following her daughter’s disappearance, Azam Ahmed has written a page-turning mystery but also a stunning, color-saturated portrait of the collapse of formal justice in one Mexican town.” –Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Directorate S
"I literally could not put down this book, and read it from start to finish it in one sitting. On the one hand, Fear is Just a Word is a brilliant piece of nonfiction storytelling, but it also serves as an unflinching guide to the widest possible range of human behavior. Ultimately it offers up a restorative tale of human redemption through individual courage. Azam’s acumen both as a reporter and as a storyteller are evident throughout these pages. Truly a remarkable achievement." –Jon Lee Anderson, bestselling author of Che: A Revolutionary Life
“Azam Ahmed’s electrifying Fear Is Just A Word is a deeply moving story about a brave, yet flawed woman desperately searching for her daughter’s assassins as the clock ticks. A riveting read, Ahmed captures the essence of humanity lost in a senseless drug war. I couldn't put the book down, nor will you.” –Alfredo Corchado, the Mexico City bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News and author of Midnight in Mexico