Friday, October 1, 2010

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

This novel is a surprisingly light-heartened and humorous look at illegal immigration from Mexico to the US. The main character, Nayeli, decides that her town needs to bring back men who have left for the US to find work. She puts together a team including herself, two girlfriends and a gay cafĂ© owner, Tacho, to cross the border and bring them back. She’s backed by her aunt, the first female mayor of their town, and helped by Atomiko, a young man they meet at a garbage dump in Tijuana.

Nayeli’s group pins their hopes on a missionary boy who had stayed in their village for a few months and a long ago boyfriend of Nayeli’s aunt, both of whom do end up helping. Nayeli and Tacho also undertake a cross-country trip to try and find Nayeli’s father in a small town in the Midwest. Their descriptions of Las Vegas, Estes Park and other places are fun to read.

“They skirted the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains without knowing the name of what they were seeing. Nayeli thought of it as the Sierra Madre. Tacho thought of it as the Mountains. They didn’t care for Boulder – too much traffic, too many skinny people jogging in ridiculous clothes. At Lyons, they turned up the mountains and again found themselves climbing, among vast spikes of pines, dark, nearly black. Bright pale granite upthrusts. Butterflies burst from the weeds beside the precipitous highway like little scraps of paper.”

It is not all happy times. They meet people who feel threatened by them, but they do make it to Iowa and then back to San Diego. Nayeli’s aunt, nicknamed la osa, joins them to recruit men to return to their village. The other characters in the story are also interesting, especially Nayeli’s companions Yoloxochitl (Yolo) and Veronica (Vampi).

Urrea has also written a non-fiction book about crossing from Mexico to the US called The Devil’s Highway. It is hard for me to believe the same person wrote both of these books. Although both are about border crossings, Into the Beautiful North is a much less depressing and more hopeful read. Urrea was here for The Nature of Words one year and reading this reminds me that event is coming up soon!

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