Of Lines and Rivers

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion with Francisco Cantú, the author of The Line Becomes a River, at International House in New York. Francisco served in the Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012. His book is a memoir about that experience: his internal conflicts, his gradual disillusionment and despair, his education about the plight of illegal immigrants. I have spent a lot of time with Border Patrol agents, riding and drinking and talking with them, listening to and telling their stories. I have written about the dark and heroic aspects of their world in both journalism and fiction. So I read his book–a rare inside account of an insular and wary institution–with great expectation. I was really impressed. And despite all the years I’ve spent covering the border, the book also surprised me. It was more poetic and introspective than I had expected, interweaving the somewhat predictable but always fascinating and poignant war stories with other narrative strands: dreams, historical and literary texts, the voices of the agents and, above all, the migrants who are often voiceless. It was not a surprise to discover that Francisco is a thoughtful, restrained and committed guy who is still working to explore and describe the tragic and complex realities of the borderlands. The paperback version of The Line Becomes a River was just published with an afterword that addresses today’s political uproar about border issues. (Although the current presidential administration had taken office while the hardcover was being edited, Francisco told me he decided not to insert material about the politics of the moment in that version because he wanted to focus on deeper, enduring, transcendent issues. I think that was a great choice.) Bottom line: I don’t agree with everything in this book, but it is a true literary achievement by a talented and promising author. I really enjoyed reading it and getting to know him, and I think you will too.

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