Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway: a True Story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2004.
Reason read: Read in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February even though Arizona is the bad guy in this story. I also needed a book with the topic of a group working towards a common goal for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
Southern Arizona is an unforgiving territory but ask those in the know. The people of Veracruz would say Mexico is even more so. The risk of traversing southern Arizona’s blazing desert is worth it if it means getting out of a dead-end life in a violent country. As Natalie Merchant sings in ‘San Andreas Fault,’ “Go west. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there…it’s rags to riches over there.” The trick is to survive the journey. Enemies abound. Double-crossing smugglers. Keen-eyed border patrol. Camouflaged poisonous snakes. Lightning fast scorpions. None of these can hold a candle to the dangers of desert’s unrelenting heat. In May the temperature never dips below ninety degrees. In the daytime the sun gets so hot human bodies dry out and brains begin to boil. Through barely controlled rage, as if gritting his teeth, Urrea tells the harrowing story of twenty-six men who, in May of 2001, risk everything to make it to points north. The Devil’s Highway (or Path), as this stretch of southern Arizona desert is known, is notorious for being so dangerous even Border Patrol stays clear. Other reviews of Urrea’s book state that twelve of the twenty-six succeeded in making it to safety. I have an issue with this. To say that twelve made it to safety implies that they succeeded in arriving at their various U.S. destinations. They succeeding in disappearing into the fabric of nameless and faceless working-class communities across the country. Instead, they survived the desert, were nursed back to health and only to be regarded as witnesses for a criminal trial against their coyote and ultimately sent back to Mexico. There is more but I will leave it at that.
There were a lot of great lines to quote. Here are some of my favorites, “It was a forest of eldridge bones” (p 5), “As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees” (p 6), and “A magus can sit in his pickup and summon the Beast while eating a teriyaki bowl and Diet Coke” (p 13). Harsh realities.
Author fact: Urrea also wrote The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the North. Both titles are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: The Devil’s Highway is a best seller and came close to winning a Pulitzer.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Devil’s Highway would be a good read for a book group. She also said it has been “well reviewed.” Interestingly enough, Devil’s Highway is an aside in both chapters.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30), and again in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 185)
Childs, Craig. The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. Seattle: Sasquatch, 2000.
Reason read: I’m reading this for several reasons. The original reason was since this is a nature book and John Muir’s birth month is in April I wanted to read this in his honor. Second reason is Earth Day being in April. Duh. Third (and probably most important reason…) I am headed to Arizona in the next month!
I just finished a harrowing tale that involved desperate illegal immigrants trying to brave the scorching harsh desert to make it to the promised land of the United States. Images of Mexican refugees left to die of thirst, roasting in the arid desert played through my mind as I read Craig Childs’s Secret Knowledge of Water. Childs willingly and eagerly traverses this seemingly barren landscape; bringing his readers through ravines and canyons; vast wastelands that look like the epitome of nothingness. But, pay attention to Childs’s lyrical language and a new desert starts to form before our eyes. Dripping caverns create pools of water rich with organisms.
There is an egotistical slant to my interest in a subject or rather, my attention to reading about it. Secret Knowledge of Water was interesting enough but it became more fascinating when Child talked of specific areas I plan to visit in May.
Lines I liked because I am in love with the night sky, “hysterical swarming of stars” (p 14), and “Then the stars took everything” (p 41).
Other lines I liked, “The world changed color when you think you might doe soon” (p 235), and “The entire Grand Canyon is thus a machine devised to capture and drive flash floods” (p 242).
Author fact: Childs also wrote The Animal Dialogues which is on my Challenge list. At the time of Secret’s publication he was a river guide.
Book trivia: The Secret Knowledge of Water does not contain photographs but it does have illustrations.
Nancy said: Pearl wanted to mention another book by Childs but since it was not specifically about Arizona she settled on Secret Knowledge.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30).
Meloy, Ellen. The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.
Reason read: Most of Last Cheater’s Waltz takes place in Utah and Utah became a state in January.
Ellen Meloy is hunkered down in a corner of the desert near the San Juan River in Utah. While she and her husband, Mark, call this barren land home, it is also close to Los Alamos and the White Sands Missile Range. Meloy, using her love for the west and naturalist instincts, explores what this atomic history’s proximity means to the environment. As the subtitle implies, it’s the juxtaposition of violence and beauty across a landscape that is teeming with the will to go on.
Meloy writes with wit, humor, and dare I say, sarcasm. I found a whole slew of passages I wanted to quote. I knew I was in for a good ride when I read that Meloy had just poured scalding hot water over coffee grounds and, inadvertently, a sleeping lizard: “I sat on the front steps of the screenhouse with sunrise burning crimson on the sandstone cliffs above the river and a boiled reptile in my cup” (p 3).
Another line I liked (out of a bunch): “While I could not be certain I was simply drowsily apathetic or enraged to the point of catatonia, I thought it best to cover both fronts by considering some kind of low-grade home lobotomy or one of those highly touted anger management seminars” (p 4). One more, because it made me laugh, “I am the aunt who laughs her head off at the funeral” (p 29).
Author fact: Meloy also wrote Raven’s Exile which is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Much of Meloy’s story is about a hand-drawn map she is creating of her known universe, the circumference of land around her home in the desert. While the description of Meloy’s Map Of the Known Universe would have been fun to see, it isn’t included.
Nancy said: Nancy compared Richard Shelton’s writing to Meloy.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A Geography of Family and Place” (p 98).