cover image The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border

Francisco Cantú. Riverhead, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1771-3

An ex–Border Patrol agent finds himself on both sides of the battle over illegal immigration in this fraught memoir of his time patrolling the Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas borders from 2008 to 2012, an experience that roiled his emotions and shook his sense of his own part-Mexican identity. He discovers at the border a zone of heartbreaking absurdity: agents arrest a parade of undocumented migrants who want nothing but a job; to do so, they employ tactics such as emptying water bottles and urinating on food caches hidden along commonly used routes to deny border crossers sustenance, then rescue them when they are dying of thirst in the desert. After Cantú quits because of teeth-grinding stress and guilt, he’s forced to further reexamine the border when an undocumented friend, José, goes to see his dying mother in Oaxaca and is arrested trying to return. Through José’s story, Cantú comes to see the border crossers’ fierce resolve in the face of border police and brutal smuggling gangs as a defense of family and civilized values. Cantú’s rich prose (“For one brief moment, I forgot in which country I stood. All around me the landscape trembled and breathed as one”) and deep empathy make this an indispensable look at one of America’s most divisive issues. Agent: Rebecca Gradinger, Fletcher & Co. (Feb.)