The Night of the Scream
The friendship of two remarkable women
The Night of the Scream is the absorbing account of a friendship between two women of very different classes and cultures. When Marjon van Royen arrives in Mexico City to take up a new job as correspondent for NRC Handelsblad, she has just spent four years covering the Balkan wars and thinks she can handle Mexico. Instead she finds herself wandering through a labyrinth of silent macho males and life-sized talking puppets, courteous robbers and corrupt policemen. She cannot penetrate the silence that dominates this Latin American country, where the only opportunity to let off steam seems to be the annual ‘day of the scream’.
Marjon feels utterly at sea until she meets Sandra, a young Native Indian cook from the Central Highlands living in a shanty town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Sandra says things no one else wants or dares to say. Illiterate, penniless, but remarkably wise and humorous, Sandra becomes Marjon’s guide, her storyteller, and eventually her best and only friend.
When their shack is burned down by local Mafiosi, Sandra and her daughters come to live with Marjon. She shares Sandra’s trials – the kidnap of her youngest daughter, the rape of her eldest, police violence and jail – and her joys: Sandra’s laughter, her optimism and determination, and the surreal incidents that typify life in Mexico. Living with Sandra gives Marjon van Royen a unique insight into the daily lives of Mexico’s have-nots, lives invisible to other correspondents, whose objectivity keeps them aloof from the people and cultures they describe.
Mexican life, Van Royen discovers, is full of unexpected injustices, especially for women like Sandra, part of the heavily exploited workforce on which the economy depends. In Mexico you don’t complain, you shut up and hope things won’t get worse. Sandra teaches her to adapt, ‘to accept that losing is inevitable in this country’, until the night of the scream, when a woman is raped on their own front porch. It is a night that changes everything, including the relationship between Marjon and Sandra.
Her friendship with Sandra forces Van Royen to confront her own illusions and mistakes, including her sense of herself as an untouchable gringa. She pays the price for her refusal to conform when she is deported by the Mexican authorities, at first losing Sandra too but later finding her again. Their friendship is restored. Different as they are, both women prove to be real survivors.