Review: Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother

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Review for "Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother" by Sonia Nazario (2006)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the fourth book in my personal knowledge quest on illegal Latin American migration to the United States (Luis Urrea’s “Across the Wire” and “The Devil’s Highway” were the first two I read). Nazario’s book goes hand in hand with another I’ve read recently, Lauren Markham’s “The Far Away Brothers,” which discusses the topic of children from Central America who come to the United States, without their parents and through some of the harshest and most dangerous situations in the world.

Enrique is a Honduran youth whose mother leaves him as a young boy to come to the U.S. Left with relatives, he at first misses her, then longs for her, and finally, after experiencing the hopelessness and crushing poverty of his home, decides to join her in the U.S. To get there, he rides atop the Beast, freight trains that begin in southern Mexico and go all the way to the U.S. border. Riding the trains is nothing short of a hellish nightmare: there are brutal gangsters and criminals who rob, rape, and kill riders atop the trains and along the tracks, Mexican police out to catch and send the migrants back, Mexican natives who offer little to no help (depending on where you are), and of course, the train, which often mutilates and kills migrants who attempt to catch it and climb on top.

Seven times Enrique attempts the journey to the United States, and seven times he is caught and sent back to Guatemala by Mexican authorities. On the eighth try he manages to make it to America, yet the story doesn’t end there. Nazario painstakingly continues to document Enrique’s adjustment to the U.S. and reunion with his mother. Hint: it’s bittersweet.

I loved the writing, the attention to detail. There are also photographs, taken by Nazario herself as she rode the train north to reconstruct Enrique’s journey. She interviewed people along the route, priests, migrants, mission workers, and Mexican authorities. The only complaint I have about this book is that the information is somewhat repetitive from chapter to chapter, but that is probably because each chapter was once a feature in the LA Times. The articles won a Pulitzer Prize, so it’s definitely worth reading.

Even though Enrique took his journey in 2000 and the book was published in 2006, the information is just as timely as if it were written yesterday. Definitely worth a read.

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Review: The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life

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Review for "The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life" by Lauren Markham (2017)
 
Rating: 4.75 stars

I tend to be attracted to books that showcase timely social issues in a readable, narrative format. This is just such a book.

This is the true story of Ernesto and Raul Flores, identical twins who left their home in El Salvador in 2013 and illegally came to America without their parents at the age of 17. In their small rural town, the twins live with seven other siblings and their parents in crippling poverty and in constant fear of violent criminal gangs, which rule the countries of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) with a iron fist. For $7000 each, Ernesto and Raul’s parents seek out a loan shark to pay for the services of a coyote, a smuggler who moves people through Central America and Mexico and finally through the desolate desert interior of the U.S. The story goes into detail of their capture in the desert by border patrol, detainment in a facility for unaccompanied minors (mostly from Central America), and their reunion with an older brother who also came north in the same fashion several years before.

The story, however, doesn’t stop there. Markham follows her subjects through the myriad of challenges that make up the twins’ new American life: entering school, finding legal representation to fight deportation, learning English, paying down their accumulating $19,000 coyote debt, the struggle to send money home, family problems, and of course, the struggles that simply come with being teenagers. Interspersed throughout the book are snippets of ‘boots on the ground’ research done by the author of the various aspects of the Central American immigrant experience–their journey, frequent capture, detainment, and (almost always) deportation.

I really loved this story because it was told in an easy to follow narrative style that completely humanizes the “illegal aliens” that the current president would love to build a wall to keep out. You learn about the high, very human cost of these efforts and how, despite what laws or wall is erected, many are still willing to risk it all to live the American dream, even if it means death.

Loved this book. Get it right away!

Review: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

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Review for "We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (to be published on 3 October 2017)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Great book, I tell ya…

When I heard that Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing another book, I signed up to read it on NetGalley with lightning quickness. I also read his writings elsewhere such as The Atlantic, Twitter. Matter of fact, I’ll usually drop everything I’m doing to read Mr. Coates because his perspective and words on the most pressing issues of our time are impeccable.

If you aren’t reading Ta-Nehisi Coates then you probably should be. Like “Between the World and Me,” “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” is a searing testimony to the ongoing quagmire of race in the United States: to high hopes, to failed promises, to the uncertainty of what lies ahead. These are a collection of eight essays that appeared in The Atlantic (one for each of the eight years that President Obama was in office) with a short preface added by Coates before each, which give the reading more perspective and insight.

Do read this. It should be required reading in all schools and universities.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

Behold! A negative review. I’m sorry.

For those who read me often, you’ll know that you don’t see bad reviews often on 29chapters. But yes…occasionally I do encounter a book that for whatever reason, did not offer me a pleasurable nor informative reading experience.

Perhaps you will read it and completely disagree. In the meantime…

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Review for "A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal" by Jen Waite (2017)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After reading the description, I took the last word in the title, betrayal, and expected something mind-bending and completely unbelievable to compel me to read all 258 pages of this work. This book was neither of those things. Sure, Ms. Waite’s husband is guilty of being a cheating and lying jerk, but how is this different from thousands of other women and men whose lives are ruined by a partner’s infidelity? I also understand that she was deeply hurt by his actions (as I would be), but what is so remarkable here? Why is this a memoir? Who published this drivel?

Most of the first half of this book is made up of adolescent-ish, ‘dear diary’ prose, with “Before” and “After” scenes documenting the beginning, middle, and end of her marriage to Marco, an Argentinian bar tender, serial liar and cheater. Somewhere in all of this she discovers her husband is having an affair and we’re forced to watch as she goes back and forth with omg why omg why omg why this happened. We watch as she scours her husband and his mistress’ social media, phone records, an Uber account. It’s exhausting. It’s obsessive. It’s creepy. And after pages and pages of this, we also don’t care.

I also take issue with her use of ‘psychopathic’ to describe her husband’s behavior. Yes, he cheated on her and lied to her–but does this really make him a psychopath? What medical expertise does the author have to make such a diagnosis? Of course, we’ve all called at least one person we know ‘crazy,’ but the author spends a great deal of time in this book, with no medical expertise at all, utilizing Google searches, internet message boards, and a Wikipedia page to self-diagnose her husband’s mental condition and actions. Well alrighty then.

I don’t recommend this–no way, no how. Sorry.

Review: Cuz

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Review of "Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A" by Danielle Allen (to be published on 5 September 2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A” is the true life story of the author’s younger cousin Michael, who was arrested at the age of 15 in Los Angeles for the crime of attempted carjacking. He was charged as an adult, served eleven years in prison, and was released in 2009. Three years later, his body was discovered in his vehicle, riddled with bullets.

Danielle Allen, an academic at Harvard University, peels away the layers of Michael’s troubled personal and family life and attempts to find an answer for why her cousin’s life came to such a tragic and violent end. She manages to write a really good background sociological perspective of Los Angeles, with its gangs, segregated neighborhoods, and history of mass incarceration that was very relevant to the discussion of the personal facts she presents. All in all, a very solid work that anyone who is interested in urban sociology would appreciate.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was given to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Education of a Coroner

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Review for "The Education of a Coroner" by John Bateson (to be published on 15 Aug 2017)

Rating: 4 out of  5 stars

If “CSI” on CBS is a little too sunny for you and you prefer darker, grittier shows about real forensic science like HBO’s “Autopsy” or HLN’s “Forensic Files,” then this is the book for you. Right away it grabs you with its painstaking attention to detail about everything you want know (and more!) about the day to day life of a real coroner. Holmes opens his case files and discusses dozens of cases he’s worked in and around Marin County, California, where he served as the official coroner for many years. He discusses death investigations, how the cause and manner of a person’s death is determined, the evidence of various methods of homicide on the body, the ‘how’ of suicides (i.e., what really happens when people jump off the famed Golden Gate Bridge). Call me weird, but as a self-confessed forensic science fan my fascination with the subject matter here spurred be to finish it pretty quickly.

There were a few errors in the writing, but since this is an advance copy, I won’t mention them here. There’s really nothing bad I can say about this book. Definitely recommend if this is a subject of your interest.

[Note: A free, digital copy of this book was provided via the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion of this book.]

Review: The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez

I’ve been on a nonfiction reading kick lately. A little real life adventure never hurt anyone anyone, does it? Anyway, on to my next book…

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Review for "The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez" by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto (2015)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

True crime/investigative journalism book that uses the murder by a young man of his parents and sister to explore many of the issues that plague Juarez, the infamous Mexican border city that’s only miles away from El Paso, Texas. Only the first few chapters discuss the actual details of the crime and what happens to Vicente in the aftermath (he only got a measly five years in prison, btw). It’s not Vicente’s fate that drives this book as much as its overarching message: that when violence occurs in a place with impunity, it effects everyone–including a 16-year-old who decides to slaughter his family.

Nieto spends the majority of the book breaking down the rampant political corruption, cartel wars, gang conflicts, and the other cogs of the machine that are the cause of the epidemic violence that go on in Juarez. At the height of the violence in 2010, there were 20 homicides a day and 8 kidnappings. It’s pretty shocking stuff. Brutal kidnappings, dead bodies left in the street, in front of schools, in neighborhoods. Criminals that walk right out of prison because well, umm, the guards left the door open. Oops. There’s also a chapter that discusses the joke of a police department Juarez has. How does a city rack up thousands of murders in one year? It’s because they don’t even bother to investigate. Case received, case closed. Next…

I recommend this book for anyone interested in current issues, particularly in Mexico.