Unaccompanied

Javier Zamora. Copper Canyon, $16 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-55659-511-0
Zamora details his experience emigrating from El Salvador to the U.S. at age nine in his timely and excellent debut, a heartbreaking account of leaving behind the grandmother who raised him to join parents he barely remembered. He offers harrowing descriptions of crossing the border without documentation—“not the promised land but barbwire and barbwire”—and inhabits the perspectives of family members, imagining, for example, how his father must have felt to leave behind his son and wife to cross the border alone. He also reflects vividly on his grandfather, a former gangster known for chasing his loved ones with a machete, and recalls the Salvadoran Civil War of the 1980s in affecting detail: in “Rooftop,” he remembers an aunt comforting him while bombs rained down nearby, and in “Aftermath” he writes, “See,/ little has changed. Burned thatch-roof, you can still stop rain.” He diagnoses his homeland’s ailments astutely (“Every day cops and gangsters pick at you/ with their metallic beaks, and presidents, guilty”), but the ache of homesickness remains: “lie to me. Say I can go back.” Zamora’s wistful ambivalence about his homeland and the difficulty of assimilating where one feels unwanted are both powerful and distressing. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/21/2017
Release date: 09/01/2017
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