March Book Review - 'The Line Becomes A River' by Francisco Cantu

Mar 12, 2019

Every now and then a book comes along that is both universally pertinent and utterly timely. The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu manages to be both timeless and urgent at once.

To be absolutely clear, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantu, is not a political book.  It is a memoir about working as a US border patrol agent in our southern deserts from 2008 to 2012. Ripped from today’s headlines, this book is essential for understanding the challenges of border security.  It is a front row seat to this tragic human experience.

Cantu writes in three distinct sections, with carefully researched history of the border itself woven in to each section.  In the first section the reader goes along with the agents upholding the law.  In the second, Cantu introduces the citizens living at or near the border. In the third, the reader meets one specific individual and learns what motivates the journey in the face of all its’ dangers.

Agents patrolling the border have a seemingly Promethean task of finding, catching and returning migrants who have crossed, many for the third or fourth time.  These migrants might be a father and child who have no water or food and are quickly running out of hope, but they might also be ruthless drug or human traffickers. Citizens living along the US side of the border deal with fear and frustration as they witness desperate human beings attempting to cross unseen.  While some feel safe, others unlucky enough to live on the foot route north are often robbed or physically threatened by migrants.  In the final section, Cantu introduces the reader to Jose, an individual living in the US illegally and shares this one individual’s journey through deportation.  This final section goes a long way toward answering the biggest question of the first two sections: “Why break the law?”

A former Fulbright fellow, and recipient of the Pushcart Prize and the Whiting Award, Francisco Cantu is also a native of the American Southwest, a descendant of Mexican American immigrants, and holds a degree in International Relations.  His book is intelligent, honest, unflinching and utterly beautiful.  Readers will never again consider the issue of border security without referencing this important book.

Francisco Cantu’s The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border is available at your library today. The book was published by Riverhead Books in September 2918 and is 256 pages.