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In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the "Devil's Highway." Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a "book of ...
In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the "Devil's Highway." Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a "book of the year" in multiple newspapers, and a work proclaimed as a modern American classic.
Five men stumbled out of the mountain pass so sunstruck they didn't know their own names, couldn't remember where they'd come from, had forgotten how long they'd been lost. One of them wandered back up a peak. One of them was barefoot. They were burned nearly black, their lips huge and cracking, what paltry drool still available to them spuming from their mouths in a salty foam as they walked. Their eyes were cloudy with dust, almost too dry to blink up a tear. Their hair was hard and stiffened by old sweat, standing in crowns from their scalps, old sweat because their bodies were no longer sweating. They were drunk from having their brains baked in the pan, they were seeing God and devils, and they were dizzy from drinking their own urine, the poisons clogging their systems.
They were beyond rational thought. Visions of home fluttered through their minds. Soft green bushes, waterfalls, children, music. Butterflies the size of your hand. Leaves and beans of coffee plants burning through the morning mist as if lit from within. Rivers. Not like this place where they'd gotten lost. Nothing soft here. This world of spikes and crags was as alien to them as if they'd suddenly awakened on Mars. They had seen cowboys cut open cacti to find water in the movies, but they didn't know what cactus among the many before them might hold some hope. Men tore their faces open chewing saguaros and prickly pears, leaving gutted plants that looked like animals had torn them apart with their claws. The green here was gray.
They were walking now for water, not salvation. Just a drink. They whispered it to each other as they staggered into parched pools of their own shadows, forever spilling downhill before them: Just one drink, brothers. Water. Cold water! They walked west, though they didn't know it; they had no concept anymore of destination. The only direction they could manage was through the gap they stumbled across as they cut through the Granite Mountains of southern Arizona. Now canyons and arroyos shuffled them west, toward Yuma, though they didn't know where Yuma was and wouldn't have reached it if they did.
They came down out of the screaming sun and broke onto the rough plains of the Cabeza Prieta wilderness, at the south end of the United States Air Force's Barry Goldwater bombing range, where the sun recommenced its burning. Cutting through this region, and lending its name to the terrible landscape, was the Devil's Highway, more death, another desert. They were in a vast trickery of sand.
In many ancient religious texts, fallen angels were bound in chains and buried beneath a desert known only as Desolation. This could be the place.
In the distance, deceptive stands of mesquite trees must have looked like oases. Ten trees a quarter mile apart can look like a cool grove from a distance. In the western desert, twenty miles looks like ten. And ten miles can kill. There was still no water; there wasn't even any shade.
Black ironwood stumps writhed from the ground. Dead for five hundred years, they had already been two thousand years old when they died. It was a forest of eldritch bones. The men had cactus spines in their faces, their hands. There wasn't enough fluid left in them to bleed. They'd climbed peaks, hoping to find a town, or a river, had seen more landscape, and tumbled down the far side to keep walking. One of them said, "Too many damned rocks." Pinches piedras, he said. Damned heat. Damned sun.
Now, as they came out of the hills, they faced the plain and the far wall of the Gila Mountains. Mauve and yellow cliffs. A volcanic cone called Raven's Butte that was dark, as if a rain cloud were hovering over it. It looked as if you could find relief on its perpetually shadowy flanks, but that too was an illusion. Abandoned army tanks, preserved forever in the dry heat, stood in their path, a ghostly arrangement that must have seemed like another bad dream. Their full-sun 110-degree nightmare.
"The Devil's Highway" is a name that has set out to illuminate one notion: bad medicine.
The first white man known to die in the desert heat here did it on January 18, 1541.
Most assuredly, others had died before. As long as there have been people, there have been deaths in the western desert. When the Devil's Highway was a faint scratch of desert bighorn hoof marks, and the first hunters ran along it, someone died. But the brown and red men who ran the paths left no record outside of faded songs and rock paintings we still don't understand.
Desert spirits of a dark and mysterious nature have always traveled these trails. From the beginning, the highway has always lacked grace-those who worship desert gods know them to favor retribution over the tender dove of forgiveness. In Desolation, doves are at the bottom of the food chain. Tohono O'Odham poet Ofelia Zepeda has pointed out that rosaries and Hail Marys don't work out here. "You need a new kind of prayers," she says, "to negotiate with this land."
The first time the sky and earth came together, Elder Brother, I'itoi, was born. He still resides in a windy cave overlooking the western desert, and he resents uninvited visitors. Mountains are called do'ags. In the side of one do'ag can be found the twin caves where the spirit of the evil witch, Ho'ok, hides. The coyote-spirit of the place is called Ban, and he works his wicked pranks in the big open spaces.
Everywhere, red shadows. Tiny men live underground, and they are known to the Yaqui Indians hereabouts as Surem. In the past, before the first white man died, uku, the devil, controlled all the corn until the crows stole it from him and let some of it slip so men could eat. Mexico's oldest hoodoo, La Llorona, the wailing ghost, has been heard rushing down nearby creek beds. And its newest hoodoo, the dreaded Chupacabras (the Goat Sucker), has been seen attacking animals, lurking in outhouses, and even jumping in bedroom windows to munch on sleeping children. An Apache witness said the Chupacabras was a whispering kangaroo. It said, "Come here." He swore it did.
The plants are noxious and spiked. Saguaros, nopales, the fiendish chollas. Each long cholla spike has a small barb, and they hook into the skin, and they catch in elbow creases and hook forearm and biceps together. Even the green mesquite trees have long thorns set just at eye level.
Much of the wildlife is nocturnal, and it creeps through the nights, poisonous and alien: the sidewinder, the rattlesnake, the scorpion, the giant centipede, the black widow, the tarantula, the brown recluse, the coral snake, the Gila monster. The kissing bug bites you and its poison makes the entire body erupt in red welts. Fungus drifts on the valley dust, and it sinks into the lungs and throbs to life. The millennium has added a further danger: all wild bees in southern Arizona, naturalists report, are now Africanized. As if the desert felt it hadn't made its point, it added killer bees.
Today, the ancient Hohokam have vanished, like the Anasazi, long gone in the north. Their etchings and ruins still dot the ground; unexplained radiating lines lead away from the center like ghost roads in the shape of a great star. Not all of these paths are ancient. Some of the lines have been made by the illegals, cutting across the waste to the far lights of Ajo, or Sells, or the Mohawk rest area on I-8. Others are old beyond dating, and no one knows where they lead. Footprints of long-dead cowboys are still there, wagon ruts and mule scuffs. And beneath these, the prints of the phantom Hohokam themselves.
In certain places, boulders form straight lines, arrayed along compass directions on the burning plains. Among these stones are old rock piles in the shapes of arrows. They were left by well-wishers in 1890, aiming at a tinaja (water hole) hidden among crags. Cairns that serve as mysterious signposts for messages long forgotten mix with ancient graves. Etchings made in the hardpan with feet or sticks form animals centuries old and only visible from the air. Some of these cairns have been put in place by Border Patrol signcutters (trackers), and they are often at the junction of two desert paths, but the cutters just smile when you ask what they mean. One more secret of Desolation.
When the white men came, they brought with them their mania for record keeping. They made their way across the land, subduing indigenous tribes, civilizing the frontier. Missionaries brought the gentle word of the Lamb. Cavalrymen bravely tamed the badlands, built military outposts, settlements, ranches, and towns. Cowboys rode like the wind. Gunslingers fell. The worst bandits you could imagine drank rotgut and shot sheriffs, yet lived on in popular mythology and became the subjects of popular songs and cheap fictions. Railroads followed, and the great cattle drives, and the dusty range wars, and the discovery of gold and silver. In the great north woods, lumberjacks collected the big trees. The Alamo. The Civil War took out countless citizens in its desperate upheaval.
Every Tijuana schoolkid knows it: it's the history of Mexico.
If the North American continent was broad ("high, wide, and lonesome"), then Mexico was tall. High, narrow, and lonesome. Europeans conquering North America hustled west, where the open land lay. And the Europeans settling Mexico hustled north. Where the open land was.
Immigration, the drive northward, is a white phenomenon. White Europeans conceived of and launched El Norte mania, just as white Europeans inhabiting the United States today bemoan it. They started to complain after the Civil War. The first illegal immigrants to be hunted down in Desolation by the earliest form of the Border Patrol were Chinese. In the 1880s, American railroad barons needed cheap skilled labor to help "tame our continent." Mexico's Chinese hordes could be hired for cheap, yet they could earn more in the United States than in Mexico, even at cut rates. Jobs opened, word went out, the illegals came north. Sound familiar?
Americans panicked at the "yellowing" of America. A force known as the Mounted Chinese Exclusionary Police took to the dusty wasteland. They chased the "coolies" and deported them. And today?
Sinful frontier towns with bad reputations. Untamed mountain ranges, bears, lions, and wolves. Indians. A dangerous border. Inhabitants speak with a cowpoke twang, listen to country music, dance the two-step, favor cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and pickup trucks. That ain't Texas, it's Sonora.
Sonoita (also known as Sonoyta) was perhaps not much more than sticks and mud, but it was a stopping point for a Spanish expedition in search of, what else, gold. Even in 1541, Sonoita was the unwilling host of killers and wanderers. The leader of this clanking Spaniard patrol was a firebrand known as Melchior Diaz. He didn't especially want to spend his holidays in the broiling dust of Sonoita, but he was deep into hostile territory. It was commonly believed that the natives of the Devil's Highway devoured human children. The Spaniards weren't planning on settling-spread the cross around, throw up a mission, and hit the road in search of better things.
Melchior Diaz was trying to reach the Sea of Cortez, lying between the Mexican mainland and Baja California. Perhaps he knew that ahead of him lay the most hellish stretch of land in the entire north. The dirt paths he rode his horse down on that day are now the paved and semipaved barrio lanes of modern Sonoita. Some of the hubcap-popping boulders in Sonoita's hillside alleys are the same rocks on which Melchior's horse's shoes struck sparks.
He died trying to kill a dog. He probably didn't have anything against canines-his troop had dogs that they used to hunt down game and humans. But there were also the feral creatures that dashed in from the out-skirts of the settlement to slaughter his sheep. Melchior Diaz kept his sheep in small brush corrals, attended by his Indian slaves. But the wild dogs had a way of sneaking off with lambs when nobody was looking.
And Melchior was cranky. He had spent his holidays far from home, among the savages, and even Tucson was only a small scattering of huts and lean-tos. He couldn't have been farther from Mexico City or Spain. Sonoita was the end of the world. A Christmas in this outpost did not inspire joy. Besides, conquistadores were notoriously short on joie de vivre.
Melchior rode well, and he rode well armed. He certainly carried a sword and a fighting dagger. He probably carried a harquebus and a long metal-tipped lance, the M16 of the day.
Melchior was a strong man and a powerful fighter. In the narratives of the Coronado expedition, we see him plying his trade: "... the horsemen began to overtake [the Indians] and the lances cut them down mercilessly ... until not a man was to be seen." This rout of natives serves as the preface to the story of death that begins with Melchior Díaz.
We know that he was riding his horse down one of the settlement paths. We can project the smells swirling around him: horse, dirt, his own stink, chickens, smoke, dung. Not all that different from the smells of today.
He was approaching his sheep pen, perhaps where the Asi Es Mi Tierra taco shop, or a Pemex station stands today. Melchior squinted ahead and-Damn it to hell!-those lazy slaves of his had allowed a dog to get in the pen!
No record states how Melchior entered the pen, but it doesn't seem likely he stopped to open a gate. Not Melchior. He jumped over the fence, and in jumping, somehow he bobbled his lance throw and missed the dog entirely. You can see the dog yipping and sidestepping and making tracks for the horizon, casting wounded looks over his shoulder. And here is where Melchior Diaz died. The record states that Melchior, somehow, "passed over" the lance. Did he fall from the horse? No one knows, but the lance managed to penetrate his gut and rip him open.
The desert ground must have seemed terribly hard as he hit it. As Melchior died (it took twenty gruesome days)on his stinking cot, he burned and howled. Flies settled in his entrails. Maybe the very dog that killed him drew near to sniff the rich meaty scent. The fallen angels of Desolation came out of the Cabeza Prieta, folded their hands over him, and smiled.
The land had been haunted before Melchior died, and it remained haunted afterward; 150 years after his death, Catholic apparitions plagued the tribes. Various peoples had alarming encounters with meddlesome white women who flew above their heads. In the lands of the O'Odham, a white woman bearing a cross came drifting down the Devil's Highway itself. The warriors who saw her immediately did the only practical thing they could: they filled her with arrows. They said she refused to die. Kept on flying.
Excerpted from The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea Copyright © 2004 by Luis Urrea. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted November 21, 2010
Urrea's horrendous telling of the hardships of the Devil's Highway--the route in the desert of Southern Arizona which Hispanic illegals must take to get in to the United States--portrays all sides of the story: the border patrol's, the illegals', and that of US citizens. He specifically writes about the story of a group of 26 men who tried to sneak into Los Estados Unidos under the "coyote" (leader) Jesus Lopez Ramos, telling of their downhill struggle from which only 12 returned, and those barely alive, so dehydrated they were almost mummified, vomiting blood and sick from drinking their own urine. In a direct, morbidly fascinating style that hits home with the reader's sense of justice and sympathy, he animatedly tells the story of individuals who are just trying to make a better future for themselves and their families, while still making it fair to the border patrol. It is a convicting work likely to leave the reader with dramatic reforms in opinion of "illegal aliens." The style in which it is written is painfully humorous and easy to relate with. It is also obviously well-researched and very unique. My only dislike would be that sometimes it is so direct it becomes too uncomfortable to read for long stretches at a time! It slams things into perspective like nothing I've ever read, except maybe John Grisham. Five stars: if you want something interesting, absorbing, and very moving, this is the book for you. I have not read any of Urrea's other works, such as Across the Wire (winner of the Christopher award) or By the Lake of Sleeping Children, but will definetely look into them in the future. Many of my favorite fiction works pale compared to this. Read it. You will not be disappointed.
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Posted July 21, 2009
This book was a page turner. After reading this book I decided to go on a roadtrip on I-8 through the Devils Highway.
This book helps the reader understand what the people feel when crossing through the desert from Mexico to the U.S. It helped me understand why they crossed and how they go about getting across. Sadly, it also details the slow and torturous death that they encounter when they get lost in the desert and can't find anyone to help.
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Posted October 30, 2006
Absolute garbage. The writing is above average at best, and the book is written with the goal of it being left wing propeganda. The book is designed to elicit an emotional response from Americans and make us feel like we should allow anyone who comes knocking on our door into our country and make them citizens. Don't bother buying this one. If you already bought it, consider using it as toilet paper if you ever run out.
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Posted December 27, 2011
A stunning exposé of life on the Mexico-US border, ¿The Devil¿s Highway¿ examines politics and government policies by telling the story of 14 doomed ¿walkers¿ who attempted to cross the border into America by following an ill-prepared and inexperienced ¿Coyote¿ who was supposed to lead them to freedom but instead guided them to their deaths. Urrea¿s style is both lyrical and brutally blunt as he combines poetic imagery with the stark realism of the damage the desert can do to an unprepared traveler in the course of mere hours. His approach is objective until the point when objectivity is impossible. He portrays all of the players in this ill-fated drama with an even hand¿the Border Patrol agents, the walkers, the Coyotes, the Mexican gangsters who engineer (and profit from) the trips, the families left behind¿and he leaves the inevitable conclusions to the reader. Although this book is no political diatribe, the story Urrea tells reveals the cruelty and the inhumanity behind current immigration policies and laws. And while there are no easy answers to the immigration dilemma, there are certainly ways to improve the sorry state of US immigration policy.
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Posted August 12, 2011
Literally the worst book I've ever read. Luis Alberto Urrea claims to be unbiased about the situation with the Mexican immigrants, but he is completely biased, but not in one direction. In both! If he's not trashing the Border Patrol, he's trashing the Mexican immigrants. He even refers to the Border Patrol as "evil". He even went in great detail to describe what a Border Patrol officer would call a Mexican in vulgar terms. I had to read this book for school, and every time I picked it up to read, I could only manage to read a few pages before I got so angry that I had to put it down (or in some cases, throw it against a wall). He often slides in phrases in Spanish, as if he just wants to seem smart. The worst part of the book is the writing. For instance, he says "In the great north woods, lumberjacks collected the big trees. The Alamo. The Civil War took out countless citizens in its desperate upheaval." These two-word "sentences" pop up often throughout the book. It isn't just the sentence structuring that is wrong, but it's also the flow of ideas. At one part in the book he says that someone died, and then goes on to tell why he died, but not right off the bat, two pages full of useless information about how many guns the man had later, he explains in a few sentences what happened. I do not recommend this book to anyone, not even my greatest of enemies. Making it through these 220 pages was more torturous than being stranded in the desert itself.
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Posted February 3, 2007
Urrea brings to life the issue in the hearts of everyone living along the southern border of the US. It is an issue that should be in the hearts of everyone in the US. Unless you have lived and experienced border life first hand, you have no idea what is happening, why it is happening, and the realities of possible solutions. Urrea brings you as close to living on the border as one can get without actually living here. It is not intended to bring about a need to forgive all illegal immigration. It shows you what does happen--from all points of view. Buy it, read it, live it.
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Posted March 12, 2012
This is an amazing work of immersion and investigative journalism--crossed with poetry, for the physical descriptions of the desert and of the illegals' sufferings are stunning. Truly inspired, this is book is the product of great insight and work. It reads like a novel but is documented. Whatever side you stand on in the border wars, this book's insight and compassion for all sides, illegal Mexicans and Border Patrol officers, make it required reading.
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Posted August 12, 2011
I detest this book. For it to get such praising reviews and literary awards, I have to question whether people have actually read this book or merely want to seem invested in the hot topic of border policies and illegal immigration.
The book jumps back and forth in the beginning, making it difficult to understand the route the story is trying to take. It's dysfunctional and confusing. The author claims to be unbiased, yet for most of the book seems in favor of the illegal immigrants he's describing. I could understand him feeling pity for men and women led astray by the Coyotes, but this goes beyond that. It reads as though he's implying that illegal immigration should be made legal to prevent poor treatment by the Coyotes and even by border patrol. The author clearly has disdain for the border patrol, putting an edge to his words when explaining their procedures.
Beyond story line problems and his bias, the author is simply a /bad writer/. Sentences like 'It was a dream of speed for men who had not sped before' actually give me difficulty understanding the text. 'Home sweet home.' 'A hundred dollars!' 'A business move.' 'Cement. Shadowy' Incomplete sentences are scattered throughout the book in a ridiculous manner. This is not a literary move to create emphasis. This is /bad writing/. The author throws in Spanish words and either A) gives their meaning directly after, even when the Spanish word is a cognate or B) give no meaning, usually when meaning is actually needed to understand what is being said. This book is not particularly well written. It is, purely looking at writing style, an OK book. However, in combination with the author's uninteresting story telling and obnoxious bias, 'The Devil's Highway' is a bad book.
The only thing I will recommend to people about this book is to not read it.
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Posted March 30, 2009
I was excited to begin this book and to gain some insight into the current issues with the Mexican/US border. Sadly, I think the author missed an enormous opportunity to enlighten and inform his readers about the plight of illegals who are crossing into the US. The story of the Yuma 14, which is at the heart of the story, is entertaining and emotional and includes some interesting anecdotes. But the book is padded and repetitive. The actual facts are remarkably thin, and the author's comments are often unnecessarily snide. And although the author expresses some strong opinions throughout, his perspective is inconsistent and confusing.
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Posted August 25, 2005
The best book I've read on border issues. Urrea's facility with language and sense of story lift this book above the rest. He's turned investigative journalism into high art. It's graphic, painful, enraging and human.
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Posted December 3, 2013
Devils highway by Mr. Urrea was a very good book. Although some parts were rather boring, I really enjoyed this book! The nonfiction madness is about immigration. Its about several men who go into the dessert to America in search of freedom. These men are looking for jobs in search of a better life for their families. These men hope to find that in their travel. But as we know that deserts don't have any water and the sun is very hot. But what we don't know is that this desert is "cursed" and their are vicious snakes, bugs, etc. So read this book to learn about these peoples lives and who lives and dies. Hey, that rhymes!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 12, 2012
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The Devil's Highway is based on a true story about Yuma 14, written by Luis Alberto Urrea. Yuma 14 was a tragic event that left fourteen(out of a group of twenty-six) illegal immigrants dead trying to cross the Arizona Desert. To some people living in Veracruz and in other parts of Mexico, it just isn't enough. Most can't afford modern appliances like TV. Some can't even afford an education. To them the United States seems like the place to live. Getting into the United States from Mexico isn't easy and some hire smugglers to get them across. These smugglers can get you into the United States by buses and elabroate schemes, but that costs more. To most that isn't an option, so they hire Coyotes, or guides, to help them walk their way through the rough terrains and the Arizona Desert. 26 people embarked on the same journey through the unforgiving landscape but only 12 survived after being ditched by their guide.
Urrea does a fantastic job describing the Border Patrol and the politics floating around illegal immigration. He says from the Mexicans' point of view their seen as some kind of fearsome but respectful cowboys. Sure when the patrol find some walkers they'll give them water and maybe even joke around but their still under arrest. He also talks about steriotypes, how some started, why they exist. The first half of the book was very factual and slow going. It was very hard to keep up with the diffrent nicknames, sectors, and the individuals. Somewhere in the book it eventualy got into the actual story of Yuma 14. From their it was still very slow. It had some very exciting moments, like a father losing his son, but I just couldn't connect. The story it self was very good, Being smuggled into the US then getting ditched by your guide in the harsh arizona desert. The book also showed human nature at its best and worst.
i would only suggest this book to people who actualy knows a bit about the US Mexico border. The story is great. It is just very slow going, and factual. If you already know a bit about the border it might be easier to read, then i say go for it cause it is a good book.
Posted December 12, 2012
By Luis Alberto Urrea
Copyright © 2004 Luis Urrea
This book is about a group of Mexican fugitives who travel a terrible journey along the “Devils Highway”. They were falsely deceived by their confused tour guide Martinez. The book follows the group as they face many perils throughout their true real life journey toward freedom as well the other failed attempts. The authors description throughout the book makes you feel for the fugitives and what they had to go through.
Their were many main characters in the Devil’s Highway. One of the biggest ones was the tour guide Mendez he abandoned the fugitives in the desert and took off leaving them stranded. The author makes it so you feel a true contempt for this man at the end of the book when it is over. Louis also does a great job telling the individual stories of the fugitives and what they would be feeling as they were going through this. I believe that his focus on the individual stories of the larger group made you feel closer toward the group. I believe he could have been more descriptive when he was discussing the overall of the entire group.
I liked this book because it was a good read and really got you into the group and made you feel the characters. In his short description of the book “A group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona. Only 12 men came back out”. He did a great job of describing the attitude of both sides of the story from the Mexican Border Patrol as well as the American. I believe this is the reason why the book was slow in the beginning was because it needed. He gave all of the facts that we had needed to throughout the book in short stories of other failed attempts and how they could have fixed this. This book is recommended towards strong readers who enjoy true stories. III found this book interesting because I learned something that was true and unlike fiction had actually happened
I would recommend this book towards friends because it is an interesting read and the slow beginning is well worth the wait.
Posted June 7, 2010
This book about illegal immigration and the United States and Mexico is okay; but not great. The author researched the topic well; however, after a while, I got the point of the book and I didn't wish to read anymore. But, I did finish it because it was a book picked for our book club. I think that the author isn't as objective as he should have been. This book is interesting; but I wouldn't recommend it.
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Posted July 21, 2009
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Posted July 20, 2009
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Posted December 18, 2010
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