Some books stay in our hearts and minds for years. I will always count The Little Prince as a favorite. Of Mice and Men and Sweet Thursday will always be near the top of my list. It is 5:42 a.m., as I write this post, and I have just finished reading one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.
The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea is as The Atlantic said, “The single most compelling, lucid, and lyrical contemporary account of the absurdity of U S border policy.” The book was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, and I can’t imagine any other book being better.
It is not a book for the faint of heart. It is an honest, brutal, and beautifully written account of a 2001 crossing of the Sonoran Desert by thirty men who attempted to enter the U S. Fourteen of the men died in the attempt. Urrea does not take sides, he gives his readers a firsthand view of the tragedy from the perspective of the men who crossed, the coyotes that lead (or at least attempted to lead) them, and the border officials that work every day to not only stop the crossings but are also there to save those in peril.
I don’t have the words to describe how vividly the author takes you on that deadly journey in May 2001. You will feel the scorching desert sun baking your skin into leather, the desperation of the men as they begged God, their mothers, and their fellow travelers to save them. You will know greed, hope, love, desperation, and death when you read this book. But still you must read it.
The book is as relevant, or perhaps more so today than it was in 2005. There are accounts of the savagery of greedy men who would risk all, including murder, to make money. You will read of a man who worked for Coca-Cola in Mexico (a company valued at eighty-four billion dollars worldwide in 2020) for $8.00 a day. He supplemented his income by picking coffee beans for $4.00 a day. But you will also read of the beautiful image of Mexican and American kids playing volleyball across the border, using the barrier for nets.
As a writer, I attempt to tell stories that move the reader in some direction. Laughter, hope, sadness, compassion, anger, so many ways to be moved. Urrea has done this in spades. I felt countless emotions as I read his book, and then I felt those emotions again and again. He has done what I believe all serious writers strive for, he has moved his readers forward. I’m not sure what I will do with the impact this book has made upon me, but I know it will remain. I am reminded of one line he used. (not his exact words) They were the words of a man who had crossed the US–Mexico border without authority. “If I’m a wetback because I crossed a river to get here, what does that make you for crossing an ocean to get here?”
Do yourself a favor, read this book.
” Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama XIV
Denni’s Wise Words
“Nothing beats a soft pat on the head and chewing an old bone. Not a new Porsche, a giant house or a bank balance of a million dollars.”