Interview: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, Author Of 'Barefoot Dogs' In his collection Barefoot Dogs, Antonio Ruiz-Camacho offers varying perspectives on the kidnapping of a Mexican patriarch. He asks: "How do you reach closure when someone you love has disappeared?"

Author Explores The Ripple Effects Of A Kidnapping In Mexico

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Antonio Ruiz-Camacho's new book, "Barefoot Dogs," is billed as a collection of stories, but he could have easily gotten away with calling it a novel. While each piece stands alone with a distinct voice, they all provide perspectives on a single horrific event. The patriarch of a wealthy Mexican family has been abducted by a drug gang.

We feel the echoes of that event through children, grandchildren, mistresses and others as the tragedy follows the family through exile in the United States and Europe. Antonio Ruiz-Camacho has lived outside Mexican himself for over a decade now, but like the characters in his book, he's haunted by the drug violence that has torn the country apart.

ANTONIO RUIZ-CAMACHO: I think the loss of someone out of a disappearance has to be one of the hardest ways of loss to endure. Many people - thousands of people have disappeared in Mexico in the last year or so as a result of the drug wars. And that has affected me and haunted me deeply, especially because I'm now living abroad, so I wanted to explore that. Like, how do you reach closure when someone you love has disappeared, and you don't know what happened to them? And that's one of the many things that these characters are facing.

RATH: You write in several radically different styles. One story is nothing but short bursts of conversation. There's no narrative. Another is just a long, kind of run-on paragraph with no periods going on for pages and pages. But the one that is totally dialogue - it's a story called "I Clench My Hands Into Fists And They Look Like Someone Elses." It's a teenage brother and sister, and they're just kind of biding time, getting high together. And it's - you - sort of takes you right in the room when you just have their back and forth to go on.

RUIZ-CAMACHO: Yeah, that's a story that was fun to write but also a challenge. And I wanted the reader to experience some of that claustrophobic sense of being stuck at an apartment in this place that you don't know.

RATH: They're in hiding. They're afraid because of the situation with the family. And their dialogue is like - it's like they're prisoners. They only have their words to amuse each other with.

RUIZ-CAMACHO: Yeah. One of the novels that I really admire is Manuel Puig's "Kiss Of The Spider Woman."

RATH: I was thinking exactly of that.

RUIZ-CAMACHO: And so that was my little attempt to a homage to Manuel Puig. And in a way, they are stuck. I mean, they are free to go outside, but they are alone. They are on their own. Their parents are back in Mexico City. And even though they are privileged, spoiled kids in a Lower East Side apartment in Manhattan, they have lost everything they had. And I wanted to reflect that sense of loss and that sense of frailty.

RATH: You worked as a journalist in Mexico earlier in your career. Does - did that work inform your writing, your fiction?

RUIZ-CAMACHO: Yeah, definitely. I've worked as a journalist for almost 19 years - many of those covering immigration issues both here in the States and back in Mexico. And so I had the opportunity to see first-hand what immigrants of all backgrounds experience on a day-to-day basis. And one of the things that has always struck me about them is their ability to reinvent themselves in these new places. You know, how they can cope with so much without even knowing what's at stake for them. So I think those experiences are present in the book.

RATH: This book, "Barefoot Dogs," comes out on Tuesday, but I imagine you must have had some feedback already. Have you shared it with friends and family and colleagues?

RUIZ-CAMACHO: Yeah. (Laughter).

RATH: I'm curious if you've gotten different reactions from Mexicans and Americans and Mexican-Americans.

RUIZ-CAMACHO: Well, yeah. It's been - it's been interesting because I was a bit concerned about what friends in Mexico or people in Mexico would think about the book, especially because, yeah, this is a big crisis going on in Mexico, but I'll left Mexico almost 15 years ago. So I was not sure if they would think that I was allowed to be part of this conversation. But the book has been sold to be published in Mexico in the fall, and I am in charge of the translation. So to me, that was like a sanction - like, OK, I did things right here. I think more Mexicans relate to the book and not just me.

RATH: That's Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. He's the author of a book of short stories called "Barefoot Dogs." Antonio, it was a real pleasure speaking with you. Thank you.

RUIZ-CAMACHO: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure.

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