Book Group

Fear is Just a Word

By Azam Ahmed

Miriam Rodríguez was a force to be reckoned with. There’s no other way to say it. The things she did for her daughter, the measures she was willing to take, and the danger she put herself in while saying What would they want with an old woman? is truly astounding. I listened to this book, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, listening as the story was presented before me, and learning piece by piece as things unfolded and Miriam continued her vengeance.

I haven’t read much about the Mexican justice system, but as someone who grew up in Maine, any kind of violence always felt so far away from me. When I read books like this I have to remind myself that it’s all going on right now. Karen was 21 when she was kidnapped and killed in 2014. An age that I remember vividly. I can’t even imagine what she endured while on the Ranch, and to be killed because someone thought she worked for the Gulf Cartel is truly brutal.

I really loved reading about Miriam’s determination to find out what had happened to her daughter, and the devotion she showed to Karen no matter what was admirable. I liked getting the context of Karen’s hip socket surgeries and knowing that their bond was stronger because of it. Miriam proved over and over again that she was willing to do anything for Karen, and knowing her child was still lost to her is heartbreaking.

I wanted to know more about the Zetas-Gulf war, and so I did some research and found a couple of articles highlighting different aspects. This one in particular, was good for answering simple questions, and giving statistics and numbers. On the other hand, much like the chapter in the book detailing the Zetas takeover, this article talks about one incident, and gives context to it. Both are relatively recent, and even though Karen was kidnapped and killed in 2014, it’s easy to see that not much has changed in the time since.

Sometimes it can be depressing to know that not much has changed, but what this book seemed to convey is that people are still trying. Miriam left behind a collective, and a son who wanted to make sure that their work continued. They didn’t just lose steam immediately after Miriam was killed. Don’t ask me how, but I did feel hope at the end of the book.

Other interesting reads:

The original New Yorker article by Azam Ahmed

Miriam’s Obituary in The Economist


  1. Do you think Miriam’s sacrifices have had any lasting effect in San Fernando?
  2. What do you think about the reveal at the end that the Ranch was bought back by the same people that killed Karen and the others?
  3. How different do you think Mexico would be today if the Zetas had never split from the Gulf Cartel?

This book was heavy to read, but I really enjoyed it. I think it’s important to read about moments like this that humanize what’s going on in other parts of the world. I might not be able to read more than this book about the Zetas-Gulf war, but at least I know about Karen and Miriam, and that the rest of their family lives in relative safety.


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