Fear Is Just a Word

Fear Is Just a Word

A Missing Daughter, a Violent Cartel, and a Mother's Quest for Vengeance

About the Book

A riveting true story of a mother who fought back against the drug cartels in Mexico, pursuing her own brand of justice to avenge the kidnapping and murder of her daughter—from a global investigative correspondent for The New York Times

“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

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.
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Praise for Fear Is Just a Word

“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.”—George Packer, author of Our Man

“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

Fear Is Just a Word is a brilliant piece of nonfiction storytelling. Ultimately it offers up a restorative tale of human redemption through individual courage.”—Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che

“With graceful, unflinching prose, Azam Ahmed brings us straight to the heart of cartel violence. The complexity with which he renders his brave subject, Miriam Rodríguez, only deepens the infuriating tragedy into which her family and country have been drawn. I can’t stop thinking about this book.”—Sierra Crane Murdoch, author of Yellow Bird

“A riveting work of reportage, set against the ruins of a drug war gone hopelessly, violently awry . . . I couldn’t put it down.”—Daniel Alarcón, author of The King Is Always Above the People

“Staggeringly well-reported, propulsive, vibrantly populated, powerfully gripping, and moving . . . Miriam is the avenging ‘mother of all Mexicans’ who had a child ‘disappear’ into the inferno of Mexico’s militarized drug cartel.”—Francisco Goldman, author of Monkey Boy

“Ahmed captures the essence of humanity in this deeply moving story about a brave yet flawed woman desperately searching for her daughter’s assassins as the clock ticks.”—Alfredo Corchado, author of Midnight in Mexico

“In his indelible work about a personal tragedy set against the canvas of a societal one, Ahmed writes about Mexico with uncommon authority and a broken heart.”—Gary Shteyngart, author of Our Country Friends

“A harrowing exposé, years in the making, of the tyranny of the drug cartels in Mexico.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A riveting chronicle of Mexico’s cartels told through the story of one family who became their target . . . Painstakingly reported and propulsively written, this is nearly impossible to put down.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In his action-packed debut, journalist Ahmed chronicles Miriam Rodriguez’s relentless quest for vengeance against the Zetas who disappeared her daughter. . . . This vivid, disturbing story will appeal to readers interested in drug cartels and true crime.”Booklist
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About the Author

Azam Ahmed
Azam Ahmed is an international investigative correspondent for The New York Times. He is the former New York Times bureau chief in Mexico, and previously was the New York Times bureau chief in Afghanistan. More by Azam Ahmed
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