This year I am making a conscious effort to read more books by female authors. I felt I’d subconsciously been focusing on too many male authors. I’m not sure why. By chance I found this little read on Kindle by accident about five/six months ago about a subject very close to my heart: immigrant children.
I’ve written about the topic before on my blog having worked with kids at Casa Alianza who’d tried to make it to the US, many of whom would only make it to Mexico, to get caught and sent back. Some would make it to the USA, and I know a few who are still there. I knew about the journey on La Bestia train, coyetes, gangs, police, sex abuse to girls and women, the young ages they’d go and try to change their lives for the better, all for different reasons: escape domestic violence, gangs, poverty or discrimination for being gay. The stories live with me still. I talk to taxi drivers when they wonder where I’m from and feel compelled to tell me their story: the risks of living and working illegally in the black market in the hope of sending money back to their families. It’s harrowing, but admirable.
The title is somewhat ambiguous, and the word essay doesn’t really accurately describe the function or discourse of the book. It’s more of an account of the writer’s experiences of volunteering as an interpreter for unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking legal status in the US. Luiselli is actually a Mexican author, who came to work with a charity specializing in immigration matters after experiencing problems with her own Green Card. As you can imagine, it’s very topical considering the mess about immigrant children being separated from parents and imprisoned in cages, which I touched on in my post Migrant Children Kept in Cages. However, a large bulk of the book is written in 2014/2015 during the Barack Obama administration when the crisis of unaccompanied minors was at boiling point and policies were changed to try and return children as quickly as possible. The forty questions refers to those asked by lawyers and immigration staff when asking why a child why they’d come to the US, the whereabouts of their parents, and fear they face, with interviewers not understanding the full predicament of the child’s situation or the misunderstanding of some of the questions. Luiselli also looks at other issues kids face, such as finding lawyers to take on their cases or getting access to education.
Something else that doesn’t make it much of an essay is the beautiful flowing prose that makes it seem more like a story: it’s too interesting to be an essay. Luiselli, I could tell from the off, is an excellent writer. She really puts you in the mindset of the minor and the issues, informing you with interesting facts with a sometimes emotional narrative. Nontheless, I liked it, especially her story about Manu. I got to know a few dozen Manus in Casa Alianza. I’ve met a couple in Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, too. The attitude and lack of confidence in authority figures, but very warm when they break down their exterior. To find out about Manu, read it yourself.
I liked the book until the last 20%, which is described an a brief eight point postscript, some of which records the hysteria surrounding Donald Trump winning the US elections. It gets a bit dramatic. Of course, you can’t mention immigration to the US without mentioning Trump, yet I think Luiselli’s worries regarding unaccompanied minors, rather than her own worries. I feel after that the book trails off a little, a shame to end the book which was so well-written up to then. It comes across a bit rushed and bloggy, with the lexis not being quite as fluent.
I give it 4/5. It would have had five had it not been for the final flaw. Otherwise, an emotional topic which was informative and excellently written for the majority of the book. I recommend it to anyone wanting a dose of realism into the life of a child immigrant and the trials and tribulations they go through.
I especially recommend it Donald Trump.