The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

My most recent post for the Book-A-Blog was The  Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin, a survival story of the infamous 1888 blizzard on the Dakota prairie that caught school children unaware and froze people in their tracks. Brrr…

Now I blog about the desert, survival and hyperthermia instead of hypothermia. This is a true outdoor survival story that is not for the faint of heart.

Author and poet  Luis Alberto UrreaThe Hummingbird’s Daughter, Into the Beautiful NorthQueen of America and others, chronicles the May 2001 trek of 26 Mexican men across a section of the  Arizona desert aptly named  “The Devils’ Highway.”  They left their homes in the Mexican state of Veracruz to cross illegally into the United States to find work, following a guide (coyote) that they paid for a safe crossing. They braved scorpions, snakes, corrupt Mexican police, and their own countrymen intent on robbing and killing them for the few pesos they possess.  The Coyote decided to take an unfamiliar route with disastrous consequences. Twelve of the men made it to “El Norte” and 14 died horrible deaths in the desert.

While this could have easily been a politicized treatise on the state of immigration law between Mexico and the United States, Urrea mostly writes from the perspective of a poetic sociologist rather than a political scientist, describing in detail (at times graphic detail) the process of hyperthermia on the body; the lives and cultures of the men, and the circumstances that propelled each to attempt a desert border crossing. It is clear from the overall tone, especially in the last 30 pages of the book, where Urrea stands politically on the subject of immigration and how he places the blame squarely on both US and Mexican policy makers. That being said, this is the story of an Exodus gone badly, and does not in any way override the story line of survival. Urrea writes bluntly of the idiocy of bureaucracy everywhere, and how in this case it proved deadly. Urrea’s ability to weave a riveting narrative made the book a  finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of several literary awards.

The Devil’s Highway is like a desert version of  Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer, a first-person account of the deadly 1999 climbing season on Mt. Everest and the storm that left eight climbers dead on the mountain. If you like outdoor adventure and survival tales, The Devil’s Highway is an excellent choice.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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