Into the Beautiful NorthInto the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

i’ve been reading a lot of half-books lately… you know, you start it, putter along, sputter out… pick up another. but this one is a keeper.

as a californian who sees migrant workers in the fields every day on my way to my own job, i have a lot of sympathy for, although admittedly not a lot of knowledge of, people who come to this country in search of something better. those folks work hard at jobs most natives wouldn’t take. they have nothing but my respect.

over the years things are getting harder for them, too. i am so very glad california is not arizona, but it must be said that ours is often a benign neglect: migrants do live in shantytowns that steinbeck would have recognized. sigh.

so! to read Urrea’s book is a treasure. partly because he takes a look at immigration from the other side. partly because he does not injure my skull with recriminations.

the book is lighthearted, for the most part. a group of teenaged mexican girls travels to the US to convince mexican men to repatriate! it’s a funny setup, and he makes a funny book of it. one finds oneself rooting for the girls to succeed, in part because they are charming and funny, in part because i know that life here for immigrants is not any sort of paradise.

if you don’t fall in love with the characters in this book, in all their bluster and macho (both male and female) and and tenderness and allure and joi de vivre, i’d say there’s probably something deeply wrong with you.

urrea’s descriptions of landscape are fantastic. you just have to laugh at his depiction of the Rockies and the Great Plains. i knew a man once who had visited the US from Japan, and hated it. i asked him why. he said because it was too big.

indeed. maybe it does induce a form of lunacy.

i can’t say for sure how long this book will bounce around my memory, popping up when i am not particularly thinking it about it, connecting with other, unrelated things, reminding me. i hope it is a long time, because this book on first read doesn’t seem deep–it lacks sententiousness–but i kind of think that like the best of Vonnegut’s work, it will rise to my consciousness when i do not expect it to, and reveal to me something i hadn’t seen before.

in any case, Viva Atomiko!