NAMED A TOP 10 BOOK OF 2018 BY NPR and THE WASHINGTON POST
WINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE IN CURRENT INTEREST
FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE NONFICTION AWARD
The instant New York Times bestseller, "A must-read for anyone who thinks ''build a wall'' is the answer to anything." --Esquire
For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Plagued by a growing awareness of his complicity in a dehumanizing enterprise, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line.
The Line Becomes a River] lays bare, in damning light, the casual brutality of the system, how unjust laws and private prisons and a militarized border have shattered families and mocked America’s myths about itself.”
—New York Times Book Review
“[Cantú] proves to be an astounding writer with this memoir for the moment.”
“When the political rhetoric around the complex, ruggedly beautiful and scarred U.S.-Mexico borderlands is reduced to talk of a 30-foot concrete wall, it’s time to take a more nuanced look at our southern border...
The Line Becomes a River veers away from propaganda and stereotypes and into the wild deserts and mountains, and, especially, the hearts and minds of the people who traverse the increasingly militarized borderlands.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A must-read for anyone who thinks ''build a wall'' is the answer to anything.”
“[Cantú''s] beautifully written account of a life between nations cuts through the politics surrounding “the wall” to probe what’s really at stake.”
—O, the Oprah Magazine
“A book that whips across your face like a sandstorm, embedding bits of the desert into your skin that, like it or not, you’ll carry forward.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Exquisitely nuanced...explains the conflicted journey of a border crosser with an impressive level of compassion, self-reflection, and conviction.”
“If you read one book on immigration this year, choose
The Line Becomes a River.”
“The wall that separates us is high and wide, but as Cantú’s memoir shows us, there is still a way around it.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“The best book on immigration you will read this year…honest, gripping and wonderfully written.”
“By coming to better understand Cantú''s fixation with the border, readers of his book are brought into that suspension, prompted -- if not outright required -- to experience what it''s like to exist in-between, knowing no amount of politics or prayer can give a hard question easy answers.”
“An intense and captivating memoir of dreams, divisions, and death at the border.”
–Christian Science Monitor
“Read enough op-eds and takes and tweets about the border, and you can start to forget that it’s a real place….Francisco Cantú has written an insistently humane book, or maybe just a human one….It’s an exploration of how the border feels, and what happens to the people who get caught in its gears.”
“A poetic and empathetic work whose message — the border is built on an imaginary line, but its impact on the people who cross it, or can''t, is real — feels more urgent this year than ever.”
“Raw and timely confessional… A striking picture of the unsparing borderlands.”
“Beautiful, eloquent and timely...[Cantú''s] your correspondent if you want the real story.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Woven throughout his personal story is a deep body of research and critical analysis that seeks to explain how the status quo came to be. And while reasonable minds can disagree on whether he’s succeeded, Cantú, in both his book and public comments, has clearly attempted to address the underlining conditions that made his experience what it was, along the way demonstrating a willingness to publicly challenge the mission of his former employer.”
“A powerful, harrowing view of the border — a no man’s land where no one returns the same. Run, don’t walk, to your bookstore.”
“A beautifully-crafted question; the answer has yet to be written.”
“Sharply political and deeply personal.”
—New York Magazine
“[Cantú''s] compelling, tragic account may help to break down the wall for others, too.”
“Spare, graceful, and full of the details that propel a good story… [Cantú''s]life on the line has made him the kind of expert we need to hear from.”
“Cantú’s confessions mimic the desert landscape he patrols: haunting but elegant, with glimmers of humor for reprieve … The achievement of this book is how deftly Cantú reels us in, cold and wet behind him.”
“This work may determine for future generations what building a wall does to magnify the heartache of plight and flight, of people moving between nation and nationality…without the agency to define it themselves.”
“Every single person in this country — near borderlands or not — should read this book, and realize that immigration cannot be solved with a single policy.”
—Chicago Review of Books
“Full of insights into the migrant experience.”
“This beautiful and horrifying memoir should be required reading.”
—NY Journal of Books
“Cantú interrogates one of the thorniest subjects in contemporary America and finds his mother''s warning to be true: ‘We learn violence by watching others, by seeing it enshrined in institutions.’”
"[Adds] new depths to one of the most controversial issues of our modern times: the Mexican border.” —
“Beautiful and brutal.”—
High Country News
"Fresh, urgent...A devastating narrative of the very real human effects of depersonalized policy." —
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Cantú’s rich prose and deep empathy make this an indispensable look at one of America’s most divisive issues.” —
Publisher''s Weekly (starred)
“A personal, unguarded look at border life from the perspective of a migrant and agent, recommended for those wishing to gain a deeper understanding of current events.” —
“There is a line dividing what we know and do not know. Some see the world from one shore and some from the other. Cantú brings the two together to a spiritual whole. My gratitude for this work of the soul.” —
“A beautiful, fiercely honest, and nevertheless deeply empathetic look at those who police the border and the migrants who risk – and lose -- their lives crossing it. In a time of often ill-informed or downright deceitful political rhetoric, this book is an invaluable corrective.” —
Phil Klay, author of
"Francisco Cantu’s story is a lyrical journey that helps bridge the jagged line that divides us from them. His empathy reminds us of our humanity -- our immigrant history -- at a critical time.”
Alfredo Corchado, journalist, author of Midnight in Mexico
"Cantú’s story, and intelligent and humane perspective, should mortify anyone who ever thought building a wall might improve our lot. He advocates for clarity and compassion in place of xenophobia and uninformed rhetoric. His words are emotionally true and his literary sensibility uplifting.”
Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men
"This book tells the hard poetry of the desert heart. If you think you know about immigration and the border, you will see there is much to learn. And you will be moved by its unexpected music."
Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway
Francisco Cantú was an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, working in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A former Fulbright fellow, he is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a 2017 Whiting Award, and a 2018 Art for Justice fellowship. His writing and translations have been featured in
The New York Times, Best American Essays, Harper''s, and
Guernica, as well as on This American Life. He lives in Tucson and coordinates the Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program at the University of Arizona.
At the station I was given the keys to a transport van and told to drive out to the reservation where two quitters had been seen wandering through the streets of a small village. When I arrived it was just after dark and I noticed few signs of life as I drove past the scattered homes, scanning for disheartened crossers. In the center of the village a small adobe church stood in an empty dirt lot, and I saw that the front door had been left ajar. I parked the van and left the headlights shining on the entrance. I walked to the heavy wooden door and leaned with all my weight to push it open, causing a loud and violent scraping to rise up and echo into the dim interior.
Inside the church, the light from my flashlight glinted off tiny strings of tinsel hanging from the ceiling. A large piece of fabric depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe was strung across the front wall, and beneath it I saw two figures lying on a blanket that had been spread out between the pews and the altar. As I approached, a man looked up at me and squinted, holding out his hand to block the light. We were resting a little, he said. It’s just that we are lost, muy desanimados. A woman huddled close to him, hiding her face. The man propped himself up on one elbow and told me that they had crossed four days ago, that their guide had left them behind on the first night when they’d failed to keep pace with the group. They were lost for days, he said, with nothing to drink but the filthy water from cattle tanks. Puede ser muy fea la frontera, I told him. The man shook his head. Pues sí, he replied, pero es aún más feo donde nosotros vivimos.
The man told me that they came from Morelos. My wife and I, we’re just coming to find work, he said. He rubbed his eyes in silence. I have fresh water for you, I told them. At the station there’s juice and crackers. The man looked at me and smiled weakly, then asked for a minute to gather their belongings. He stuffed some things into a backpack, then helped his wife to her feet. Her face was streaked with dried tears, and when she turned toward me I saw that she was pregnant. How many months are you? I asked. The woman looked away and the man answered for her. Seis meses. He smiled. My wife speaks perfect English, he said, shouldering the backpack. He stopped in front of the altar, bowing his head and making the sign of the cross. I waited at the door as he mumbled a prayer. Gracias, he whispered. Gracias.
Outside I looked at their faces in the glare of my headlights. The woman seemed young. Where did you learn English? I asked. Iowa, she told me quietly. I grew up there, she said, I even got my GED. She kept her head down and avoided my gaze as she talked, glancing up only briefly at my uniformed body. Why did you leave? I asked her. She told me that she had returned to Morelos to care for her younger siblings after their mother died. In Morelos I made some money teaching English at the kindergarten, she said, I even tutored the adults in my village, people preparing for the journey north. For a few seconds she seemed proud, and then she shook her head. But the money there, it isn’t enough. She glanced up at her husband. It was my idea to cross, she said. I wanted our child to have a life here, like I did.
The man took a moment to look at me in the light. Listen, he said, do you think you could bring us back to Mexico, como hermano? You could drive us down to the border, he pleaded, you could just leave us there, allí en la línea. Like a brother. I sighed and turned my head, squinting at the darkness beyond the church. I have to bring you in, I told him. It’s my job. The man took a deep breath and nodded and then climbed into the back of the transport van, holding out his arms to help his pregnant wife.
I gestured at a case of water bottles on the floor. You should drink, I told them. I grabbed the metal door of the cage and paused. What are your names? I asked. The man looked at me strangely and glanced at his wife. Then, as if it were nothing, they took turns introducing themselves. I repeated their names and I told them mine. Mucho gusto, I said. They replied with polite smiles. Igualmente. I turned my head and then bolted the cage and shut the door.
In the driver’s seat I turned to look at the couple through the plexiglass. The man held his wife and gently whispered to her, cradling her head. Just before I started the engine I could hear the soft sound of her sobbing. As I drove through the unmarked streets of the village, trying to find my way to the highway, I felt for a moment that I had become lost. Beyond the last house, I saw a white dog in the darkness at the edge of my headlights, staring into the night.
At the station, I sorted through their things with them, discarding perishables and sharp objects. I had them remove their belts and their shoelaces and I tagged their backpacks and handed them a claim ticket. I counted and took note of their money, in pesos and in dollars, and then handed it back to them, telling them to keep it close. Inside the processing center I filled out their voluntary return papers and entered their names into the computer. Before leaving them in their cell I wished them luck on their journey and asked them to be safe, to always think of their child.
Later that night, as I sat in the transport van listening to the calls come out over the radio, I realized I had forgotten their names.