Antonio Ortuño – La Fila India (Indian File)


My rating:  5 Stars

Every Central American immigrant to the United States has to pass through the entire length of Mexico to get there. On the way, they are routinely subjected to abuse, first by their own countrymen, and then by Mexicans. They are often robbed, extorted, raped, beaten and murdered. The process is highly organized, probably protected by corrupt officials, and decent Mexican citizens apparently turn their heads and look away. We hear about the most egregious cases, like the mass graves found in Tamaulipas a few years ago, but it is a daily occurrence, and the victims are human beings.

This is the subject of Antonio Ortuño’s novel La Fila India (Indian File).

The story focuses on Irma, a government social worker sent to help quietly clean up the political embarrassment of a massacre involving Central American immigrants who were supposedly under the care of an aid organization. Irma arrives in the fictitious southern town of Santa Rosa with her young daughter, prepared to march in “indian file” behind her superiors, following the party line… until the situation gets complicated.

Irma’s job is to expedite compensation of the families of the victims, and repatriation of the survivors. In the course of her work, however, she gets to know a young woman who narrowly escaped the massacre, and begins to wonder why there is no effort to find those responsible for the murders. This concern grows as she develops sympathy for the investigative reporter she is supposed to be discouraging. Dragged along in the whirlwind of the young victim’s desire for revenge, and the reporter’s passion for justice, Irma finds herself at the center of a situation far larger and more dangerous than she could ever have dreamed.

The main characters are vividly imagined, and richly developed. Irma is distracted by caring for her daughter, and carrying on a telephone battle with an angry ex-husband, but finds time for a flirtation with a handsome young man at the office. The husband and the young man develop into complex characters who move the plot and the underlying theme in unexpected ways. Supporting characters include another Central American woman who is subjected to a different kind of abuse, the oddly controlling café owner, the head of the government delegation, and characters from the local underworld. And, of course, the investigative reporter, who has a surprising lack of people skills.

The themes of the book are very powerful. It is largely a story of racism, opportunism and corruption, but it goes much deeper, making us look at our own complexity, and the darkness that lies somewhere in all of us. The desire for truth is balanced with the urge to turn and look away. Finding justice competes with the urge for revenge. The instinct to help the helpless conflicts with a deep-seated inclination to take advantage of them.

Ortuño is a journalist by background, and has turned to fiction more recently. This is a hugely successful merging of journalistic coverage of an important subject into the form of a very entertaining and compelling thriller. The book has received a lot of attention, and has been on everyone’s top ten list for 2013. Absolutely justified, in my opinion.


A fin de repatriar a las víctimas de una masacre, una joven funcionaria es enviada a un pueblo perdido en el sureste de México. Primer error: mudarse allí con su hija de siete años. Segundo: abrirle las puertas de su casa a una sobreviviente. Tercero: averiguar que un grupo criminal se ensaña contra los migrantes centroamericanos. Y cuarto: tratar de resolver una sencilla pregunta: ¿por qué a nadie parece importarle? Compuesta como un caleidoscopio que registra todos los tonos del sarcasmo, La fila india es la novela de madurez de Antonio Ortuño. Una historia apasionante, a medio paso de la novela negra, que nos ofrece un grupo de personajes inolvidables, una prosa difícil de igualar y la mirada de un autor que registra cómo se descomponen las relaciones entre un individuo cualquiera y el país en que vive.

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