The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
In May of 2001, a group of men attempted to cross from Mexico to the U.S. through a section of desert ominously referred to as the Devil’s Highway. While they are crossing, they get spooked, thinking the Border Patrol has found them and run, losing their way in the process. After an entire series of calamitous decisions, the men start hoping that the Border Patrol will find them, if only to save their lives.
This is some heart-wrenching nonfiction right here. Seriously.
One thing I think Urrea does particularly well in “The Devil’s Highway” is looking at the different sides of this story. He introduces the perspectives both of the men attempting to cross illegally into the United States and of the Border Patrol, and even tries to get into the head of some of the coyotes to a certain extent.
I also appreciated the way that Urrea presented his bias. I do not mean bias in a denigrating way, everyone has an opinion on immigration, and it is pretty much inevitable that it would an inform a book such as this. Urrea walked a fine line here with making his bias/opinion/what have you obvious enough that I could identify it and see how it influenced how he told the story of these men, but not so overwhelming that the reader would feel preached to.
The most powerful chapter in the book come right about in the middle and is called “Killed by the Light.” It basically details, step-by-step, how one dies from thirst and heat in sparse, beautiful prose. Every word of it pierced my heart, both due to the writing and the fact that I knew this process was happening in each and every of the men lost on the Devil’s Highway. The style and power of this section reminded me of Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels,” which is a very favorable comparison, as that is one of my very favorite books.
I had just a little bit of trouble getting into the very beginning of this book, but once I settled into the very distressing story Urrea was telling me, I was completely rapt. No matter what your views on immigration, I believe that Urrea will bring to life the human tragedy caused by policies on both sides of the border. Very highly recommended.