Many immigrants in the US know this particularly dangerous train ride very well

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. For many Central American immigrants, the journey north to the United States involves a long and dangerous ride aboard a freight train in Mexico. That's the subject of a recent book called "The Beast," by Salvadoran writer Óscar Martínez. Daniel Alarcón, with our partners at Radio Ambulante spoke with Martínez recently and Daniel filled me in about him. Daniel Alarcón: Óscar works for El Faro, which is one of the most respected online news outlets in Central America and as a Salvadoran, I think he in particular was interested in the migration patterns that are happening and that journey that many of his countrymen are taking north through Mexico. I think he started coming across the stories and felt that someone had to tell them. The title in Spanish I think is pretty amazing. It's a little bit different from the English title and I think it really gets to the heart of what this project was about. In Spanish it was called "Los Migrantes que no importan," "The Migrants That Don't Matter." Werman: In English it's just called "The Beast." Does that refer to what a lot of these migrants call the train? Alarcón: Yes, the train is called "La Bestia" because it is this savage, animalistic journey through a forgotten and lawless part of Mexico. A place where there is no control and the law doesn't exist. Werman: And Martínez has taken this train. I want you to tell us what that actually means, to get on La Bestia. Alarcón: Well, from talking with Óscar about it, it's exactly what the name implies. It's savage, it's dangerous, you're putting your life in God's hands when you step on that train. It's a cargo train so the migrants run along side and jump. There's no protection for them. They're going through areas where they're being preyed upon by the authorities themselves or by different criminal bands, including the Zetas, who deserve their pretty infamous reputation. Werman: Given those life-threatening hazards, what did Óscar tell you about what motivates people to get on this train and go on this journey? Alarcón: That's one of the things that I really loved about the book. There's none of that romanticism, "oh, the journey northward," and "oh, looking for a better life." They're fleeing extreme poverty or extreme violence and, as Óscar Martínez told me, they just have to do it. Óscar Martínez: The Beast is like a chess game. If you make a bad move, the consequences can be very rough. For example, there are a lot of people who lose their legs, arms or even their life on the train. There are a lot of dark scenes. When you see the reaction here, it's like as if you were talking about Mars, something that is so, so far away but it's not. Just in Los Angeles, there are 2 million of Salvadoran people. 2 million from a country where there are only 7 million Salvadorans. Half of my country lives here in Los Angeles. For me, it's very shocking. They're people who are a part of your life and a lot of those people cross through Hell before they get here. For me, it's shocking. Werman: Salvadoran writer Óscar Martínez speaking with Daniel Alarcón and our partners at Radio Ambulante.