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Publisher's Summary

A searing, enlightening polemic about the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Mexican and Central American children arriving in the US without papers.

'It is not even the American dream they pursue, but rather a more modest aspiration: to wake up from the nightmare into which they were born.'

Why did you come to the USA?

When a child migrant arrives in the US all alone, this is the first question he or she will be asked.

It's the beginning of an official interview of 40 questions used by the federal immigration court in New York City, where Valeria Luiselli works as a volunteer interpreter for the tens of thousands of children from Mexico and Central America being detained at the US border.

But nothing is ever that simple. The children's stories are always shuffled, stuttered, always shattered beyond the repair of a narrative order. The problem with trying to tell their story is that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end....

©2017 Valeria Luiselli, Introduction - 2017 Jon Lee Anderson, Selected translations from the Spanish edition - 2017 Lizzie Davis (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"A remarkable little work that says more than books ten times its size." (GQ)
"With anger and lucidity, Luiselli depicts the nightmares these children are forced to flee in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as the destructive ignorance and bigotry that awaits them in America." (Chicago Tribune)
"Harrowing, intimate, quietly brilliant." (The New York Times)

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  • Suswati
  • 01-03-18

A human portrait of child migrants

With the world being shaped by migration, this essay comes at a timely fashion. Exploring the nuances of this reality, Valeria Luiselli, a skilful and gifted Mexican writer knows the migratory experience first-hand having travelled across the globe. This compassionate, short book finds her in a head-on confrontation with daily reality.

Based on her experiences working as an interpreter for dozens of Central American child migrants, she speaks to those who risked their lives crossing Mexico to escape their fraught existence back home. To stay in the US, each must be vetted by the Citizenship and Immigration Services, a vast, impersonal bureaucracy. It's her job to help these kids, but in order to do so, they must answer 40 questions that will determine their fate.

The truth about the crossing may be much more brutal in reality, with 80% of women and girls who cross from Mexico to the US being raped, hence some of the children appear evasive when answering questions. But this book is fueled, in no small part, by Luiselli's bottles up shame and rage. She's aghast at the gap between American ideals and the way they actually treat undocumented children, yet her writing is measured and fair-minded.

Luiselli takes us inside the grand dream of migration, offering the valuable reminder that exceedingly few immigrants abandon their past and brave death to come to America for dark or nasty reasons. Fantastic read.