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The Devil's Highway: A True Story [Paperback]

Luis Alberto Urrea
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 19 2005
In a new 10th anniversary edition: "The single most compelling, lucid, and lyrical contemporary account of the absurdity of U.S. border policy" (The Atlantic).

In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the "Devil's Highway." Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a "book of the year" in multiple newspapers, and a work proclaimed as a modern American classic.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In May 2001, 26 Mexican men scrambled across the border and into an area of the Arizona desert known as the Devil's Highway. Only 12 made it safely across. American Book Awardâ€"winning writer and poet Urrea (Across the Wire; Six Kinds of Sky; etc.), who was born in Tijuana and now lives outside Chicago, tracks the paths those men took from their home state of Veracruz all the way norte. Their enemies were many: the U.S. Border Patrol ("La Migra"); gung-ho gringo vigilantes bent on taking the law into their own hands; the Mexican Federales; rattlesnakes; severe hypothermia and the remorseless sun, a "110 degree nightmare" that dried their bodies and pounded their brains. In artful yet uncomplicated prose, Urrea captivatingly tells how a dozen men squeezed by to safety, and how 14 othersâ€"whom the media labeled the Yuma 14â€"did not. But while many point to the group's smugglers (known as coyotes) as the prime villains of the tragedy, Urrea unloads on, in the words of one Mexican consul, "the politics of stupidity that rules both sides of the border." Mexican and U.S. border policy is backward, Urrea finds, and it does little to stem the flow of immigrants. Since the policy results in Mexicans making the crossing in increasingly forbidding areas, it contributes to the conditions that kill those who attempt it. Confident and full of righteous rage, Urrea's story is a well-crafted mélange of first-person testimony, geographic history, cultural and economic analysis, poetry and an indictment of immigration policy. It may not directly influence the forces behind the U.S.'s southern border travesties, but it does give names and identities to the faceless and maligned "wetbacks" and "pollos," and highlights the brutality and unsustainable nature of the many walls separating the two countries. Maps not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

So many illegal immigrants die in the desert Southwest of the U.S. that only notorious catastrophes make headlines. Urrea reconstructs one such incident in the Sonoran Desert, the ordeal of sun and thirst of two dozen men in May 2001, half of whom suffered excruciating deaths. They came from Vera Cruz; their so-called guide came from Guadalajara. Jesus Lopez Ramos was no master of orienteering, however, just an expendable bottom-feeder in the border's human-smuggling racket. Tracing their lives and the routes to the border, Urrea adopts a slangy, surreal style in which the desert landscape shimmers and distorts, while in desiccated border settlements criminals, officials, and vigilantes patrol for human cargo such as the men from Vera Cruz. The imaginative license Urrea takes, paralleling the laconic facts of the case that he incorporates into his narrative, produces a powerful, almost diabolical impression of the disaster and the exploitative conditions at the border. Urrea shows immigration policy on the human level. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
Five men stumbled out of the mountain pass so sunstruck they didn't know their own names, couldn't remember where they'd come from, had forgotten how long they'd been lost. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnifico! May 25 2004
Amazing book! I couldn't put it down and read it from cover to cover in one day. Urrea has a gift for language and he applies it here. This is the story of 26 men from Veracruz. Urrea could have recounted the story of how 14 of them died in the desert and left it at that. This would still be a book worth reading... but he went way beyond those confines. He took the story of those 26 men from Veracruz and put it in historical, cultural and geographical context. He opened a window onto other worlds and onto our own. He portrays the immigrants, the border patrol and even the coyote, without judgment. He allows the reader to come to her/his own conclusion. Powerful, poetic and unforgettable. I finished it and got back on line to order everything else he has published.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crackerjack writing May 17 2004
This is a factual book that reads like a novel. Once you start, you will not be able to sleep or eat or-- well, you may have to take a break for some essentials-- but you will have a hard time putting it down for anything. The writing is excellent and the information presented is timely and provocative. What is really impressive is how he shows all sides of the story. This is not another diatribe against the heartless gringos who force immigrants to die in the desert. He makes clear Mexico's blame for putting people on the "devil's highway" through corruption and stupid politics. But he also shows how misguided U-S policy has been and he reveals enough about the victims to make you truly mourn for them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Urrea delivers a moving novel based on the true story of the Yuma 14, fourteen Mexicans (from a group of 26) that tried to cross the border and enter the US illegally through the Arizona desert and succumbed in the attempt. The author presents the facts efficiently and his conclusion follows: Mexicans trying to cross the border are human beings like everyone else that had the bad fortune of facing tough economic condition; they should be respected.
The author describes the conditions and historic events that lead to the beginning of the illegal immigration into the US and draws a clear parallelism with our times, when there are several tasks in the US that Americans are reluctant to do, thus illegal immigrants are needed for this. When price changes in international markets adversely affected the Mexican economy and overpopulation became a problem, some Mexicans decided to come to the US. They ended up with a comfortable life, so when others found out, a growing interest in crossing the border developed.
Organizations of coyotes were formed to provide supply for the growing demand, and the poor people seeking a better future became just a means to an end. These individuals in their attempts have to fight against the heat of the desert, thirst, exhaustion, "la migra" (Border Patrol) and the coyotes themselves. On top of this, the control at the border has intensified throughout the last years, so the groups seeking a new future have to go through more dangerous paths each time. In the case of the twenty-six Mexicans that are the center of this story, the point of entry was the Devil's Highway, a deadly desert in Arizona that has claimed numerous victims through the years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Devil's Highway May 1 2004
One reviewer described author's Luis Alberto Urrea's style in this book as "...controlled, righteous rage".
This is an apt description. Urrea is fair-minded and searching in his appraisal of the tragedy which beset a group of 26 men in the Sonora Desert in May 2001 most of whom were from Vera Cruz and Guerrero. While remaining suspcicious of American and Mexican immigration policies and the border officers who apply them, he nonetheless does not fall into kneejerk stereotyping. They, like most who work in or for government bodies, are caught between festering popular political rage, skewed immigration policies and the reality of the people's lives with whom they must contend each day. In Urrea's depiction many of the border officials are far more humane than those political or economic actors who are responsible for designing the policies in the first place.
Urrea's true rage is unleashed towards the conclusion at the international economic actors and the forces they unleash, political leaders for whom immigration is simply another issue to score cheap political points and univocal America firsters and their ilk who fail to comprehend the depths of the problem. Measuring the tragedy of human lives lost in mere dollars (and inaccurate figures on top of that!) is profane in the true sense of that word.
Reading "The Devil's Highway" only leads me to support responsible efforts to find common ground on institutional levels which lead to the demise of "the border" as a meaningful political entity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Luis Urrea only writes classics.As another writer who writes about the borderlands,I assure you ,he is the best purveyor of the human condition on the planet.You cannot read this,or any of his books, without changing your view of the world;changing your view of "right" and "wrong" and without changing the contents of your own heart.
In Luis Urrea's world there are few villains,few stereotypes and few "blame-games".But there is a mountain of reality that every person in North America needs to consider----what worlds,political and economic, have we created that push humans into impossible journeys,folly,even death,just to earn enough to eat and send their kids to school? What borders have we imposed--both geopolitical and cultural, that separate human beings so completely as to compell the events of this book?And,for God's sake, what does any of us gain from it? The Devil's highway is about the desperate saga of a group of poor Mexican immigrants....and it is about all the rest of us who perceive ourselves as "not part of the problem". The US/Mexico border has become a stake through the heart of humanity.No one intended it that way,but it pierces the hearts of millions just the same.This is a book that every high school and college kid in America should be assigned.Period.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars the Devil's Highway
I received the book at the time it was promised. It is in excellent condition.
The book itself, which I just finished reading, is a powerful narrative. Read more
Published on June 3 2012 by
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story, poorly written
This story of the Yuma 14 had the potential to be one helluva of a story, as it does read as though it is fictitious. Read more
Published on July 18 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
I just want to add my voice in recommending this book. As others have said, Urrea writes like a lyricists and masterfuly alternates plain exposition with poetry to tell us the... Read more
Published on June 7 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Just go get it NOW!!!!!!!
I never, ever read non-fiction but got interested in this book from a blurb in a magazine. It is life-altering, mind changing, perhaps life saving. Read more
Published on May 12 2004 by Snappy
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, Profound and Poetic
This was my first experience of Urrea's prose, but from the opening pages the narrative sang with the voice of poet - lyrical, vivid, and rich in language and pathos- yet it... Read more
Published on April 28 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece
Luis Alberto Urrea earned the moniker "the Voice of the Border" through his unflinching portrayals of life in the slums of Tijuana in his books Across the Wire and By the Lake of... Read more
Published on April 9 2004 by Massimiliano Giorgini
5.0 out of 5 stars Death on one of the world's deadliest borders
"Mr. President, tear down this wall."
Some day, perhaps, an American president will have the courage -- or a Mexican president will have the honesty -- to go to... Read more
Published on March 29 2004 by Theodore A. Rushton
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