Friday 24 July 2015

La Frontera by Sam Hawken

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: 
A well-constructed, thoughtful book which looks as if it’s a crime novel but is really about the human face of migration. Set in the US, a Mexican border town and a small mountain town in El Salvador, at the heart of the story is a mystery. A man is found shot in the back in a remote spot. Nearby is a rape tree.

The lives of three people play a part in the events of that night. Ana is a Texas Ranger patrolling the US border, keeping angry ranchers happy and trying not to fall in love with Presidio or her married colleague.

In Ojinaga, Luis seeks the quiet life, since retiring as a coyote, or people smuggler. He’s got his dogs and he’s got high hopes of dental assistant Adriana. But Luis was one of the best coyotes around and someone makes him an offer he cannot refuse. Marisol has spent her whole life in Perquín, dreaming of the United States. Finally, it’s time to leave. She sells her house and begins the long trek through all the places on her well-worn map to the Mexican-US border.

The reader is drawn to each of these people, sympathising with their circumstances and willing them all to get what they want. Which is, of course, impossible. The author makes full use of the setting, bringing the places to hot, dry, dusty, steamy life through the eyes of his characters. Unpredictable and touching, the story by turns wrenches and warms your heart, not to mention saying a great deal about human nature. The construction of this book and its conclusion in particular are superb. Essential reading for anyone with an opinion on immigration.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris, Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken.

Avoid if you don’t like
: The realities of human trafficking, having prejudices challenged

Ideal accompaniments: Eat pupusas revueltas, drink a cold bottle of Lone Star and the soundtrack to Once Upon A Time in America by Ennio Morricone

Genre: Contemporary, Crime, Mystery

Available from Amazon

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