Welcome to our IFN discussion of The Devil’s Highway:
With the border between the U.S. and Mexico front-and-center in the news under the current administration, an immersive look at life and death in the desert and border towns offers us insights into the actual situation on the ground. The history. The players. The conflicts. And the story of the Yuma 14, men and boys crossing into the United States illegally, and what happens to them.
Urrea captures the story of death and despair in the Arizona desert, and asks how the tragedy of the “biggest die-off” on the border could have been prevented. Here are a few questions to launch our discussion (Feel free to offer up other comments, ideas and questions regarding the book’s language, theme, characterization, structure, pace or flow, etc.:)
- How does the landscape–the desert, the Granite Mountains, Sonoita and elsewhere–serve as character(s) in this story? What details or reflections on setting or space offer visual depth and insights into the story itself?
- Urrea often uses the vernacular of personas–the Border Control officers; the Coyote/guide, Mendez; Don Moi the ‘godfather;’ and the Mexican immigrants themselves–in various sections where they are introduced. This use of free indirect style (a story told in third person yet in the style of the character) can be tricky. How effective are these shifts? For example, does the harshness of words like “tonks” or “polleros” (p. 60) used on both sides to describe migrants reflect the harshness of border life? Overall, does Urrea still maintain a sense of an omniscient narrator?
- Urrea is a strong researcher and, as a novelist, a lyrical writer. List a few passages that reveal either the depth of his reporting, or his mastery of language and compelling images. For example, one powerful line that resonates for me: There are no illegal people on the Earth.
- Much of the story is told narrative-style, with the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards. Only at the end does Urrea delve deeper into the chaotic politics and organizational flaws that have led to an untenable situation. Was that approach effective? How would you describe his underlying tone throughout?
- How does Trump’s current concept for A Wall fit into this dialogue? (Urrea himself is flummoxed by suggestions to build a similar wall between Honduras and Mexico, for many of the same claimed reasons, jobs, etc. (p.229). So now what?