David Lida has lived in Mexico City for the last 15 years. During that time he’s worked in journalism, investigated cases as a mitigation specialist, and written four books. His latest book, “One Life,” has been published in Spanish and English and recounts many of his experiences in mitigation through his protagonist Richard, who attempts to save Esperanza from the death penalty in Louisiana. His novel, published directly before the election, contributes important stories to the debate on immigration and the U.S. criminal justice system.
Lida’s novel mixes rich language with the political economy of the border region to explain the lives of the accused. Richard, a kind of wry, lonely man, travels to rural Mexico to investigate Esperanza’s life story, hoping to find something that will help free her from the death penalty. Richard falls in love with Esperanza and works desperately to find something that will save her, while also narrating his personal history and past cases.
Lida’s research experience comes through his writing. He details his surroundings with mastery; nothing is spared. The images are not perfunctory, rather they establish a cultural landscape that shifts as the protagonist agilely moves through the story, geographically and emotionally.
Lida’s dry humor also compliments the narrative. “Esperanza registers him as Louisiana brown: a café au lait ‘moreno’ who can’t speak Spanish,” he writes. Richard’s ruminations are sometimes dark; however, he treats his subjects with respect and works to fight against a system that is categorically against the undocumented.
In a conversation with The News, Lida described the roots of the story. Although his novel was written well before Trump’s candidacy was announced, he says he writes the counter-narrative to the racism that formed the base of Trump’s political platform. He writes about those facing the death penalty, but wanted to write these stories as ones that “deserve consideration, compassion, and mercy.” He explained how in many ways the U.S. criminal justice system is designed to punish the poorest of the poor and how U.S.-Mexican policies left many vulnerable to these injustices.
At a time when anti-immigrant sentiment has won over the U.S. electorate, Lida’s novel provides a humanistic portrayal of those whose voices are rarely heard.
David Lida will be presenting the Spanish edition of “One Life” Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in El Imperial in Roma Norte.