An affecting debut on Mexican poverty, illegal immigration and cosmic injustice.
Split between the narratives of a ten-year-old girl and a woman in her 30s, the novel illustrates the travails of immigration—the often hard fate of those left behind, the danger of crossing the United States border and the splintered sense of home experienced by those who have made it to El Otro Lado, the other side. The cycle of tragedy for young Juana begins with a flood: Unable to keep the water out of their cardboard shack, Lupe goes for help, instructing daughter Juana to stay on the table with baby Anita. When Lupe and her husband Miguel return, they find Juana asleep and Anita dead underwater. To pay for the cost of their baby’s burial, Miguel decides to go North for work before the interest on the loan triples the original debt. Weeks pass and Lupe sinks into despair they haven’t heard from Miguel, and the town assumes that he’s abandoned her, an all-too-common occurrence. Worse yet, their creditor Don Elias is demanding payment from Lupe, and gives her two options—she becomes his whore, or he has her jailed. Juana stands by helplessly, praying to the Virgin to bring her father back, watching her mother give birth to a baby boy that Don Elias kidnaps, selling quesadillas at the train station to feed the now raving Lupe. Poor Juana’s story gets much worse before it gets better. Adelina’s tale is equally bleak. Living in Los Angeles and working as a social worker at a woman’s shelter, she is searching for the father she hasn’t seen in years. Her singular purpose has kept her away from life and love until she finds a coyote who recognizes the description she gives of her father, a man who died crossing the border. Now with her father’s ashes, she is going to bring him home to Mexico. By the (not-so-surprising) end, Juana and Adelina achieve the kind of hard-won justice that occurs only in fiction.
A politically well-timed tale of the journey to El Norte.