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Open Pit

by Marguerite Pigeon

In 2005, during a time of increasing globalization, a group of Canadian human-rights activists travels to El Salvador. Before they get to see the sights or meet the locals, they’re taken hostage by a former revolutionary fighter trying to shut down a new open-pit gold mine. While most of the hostages are traumatized by this terrifying and unfamiliar situation, one member of the group, Danielle Byrd, recalls her experience from more than 20 years earlier, when she visited the area as a young embedded journalist during the country’s civil war.

Danielle’s decades-old adventure is related through letters she wrote to her best friend back home – letters her twentysomething daughter, Aida, is now reading. Not only did Danielle witness countless atrocities during her stay in a small El Salvadoran community, she also became romantically involved with a rebel officer who may not have been as well-intentioned as he seemed.

First-time novelist Marguerite Pigeon has an extensive background as a journalist and spent several months in the early 2000s living near the Honduras–El Salvador border. While her knowledge of the area is impressive, the novel often feels too closely rooted in fact rather than character. At times, Open Pit reads more like a piece of long-form journalism than a novel.

While Danielle’s letters (and Aida’s reactions to them) make it clear the two have a strained relationship, Aida nevertheless decides to travel from her home in Toronto to assist in the efforts to free her mother and the other hostages. This gesture should help foster empathy for Aida – and, by extension, Danielle – but neither character is developed enough to resonate with the reader. Their tenuous bond enhances the disconnect between mother and daughter, but it also adds to the reader’s disconnect with the characters.