Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea takes place in Tres Camarones (Three Shrimp), Mexico, a town similar to the one in which the author actually grew up in. Times are tough and one day the women look at each other and realize that ALL THE MEN have left to find better work in America. But where does that leave the women in the town? Vulnerable to bandidos (outlaws; bandits) who want to take over the town, that’s where!
After watching THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN at their local theater, some of the women decide it would be best to bring back men who can protect their town, men such as cops and soldiers. A group is formed that will cross into America, find some men, and come back to Tres Camarones.
The small group consists of Nayeli, 19, who has at least one connection in America with a boy who was a missionary in Tres Camarones a few years ago; Tacho, a very feminine gay man; Vampi, the goth girl; and Yolo, a girl who likes to read. They set off on the treacherous journey of going to America illegally. They start with a sketchy bus ride and eventually end up with a coyote who agrees to take them across the border. Nothing on this trip goes as they planned, anticipated, or hoped.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition in this book: All of the complaints Americans have about immigrants (i.e. Mexicans), Mexicans have about Hondurans:
These illegals come to Mexico expecting a free ride! Don’t tell me you didn’t have Salvadorans and Hondurans in your school, getting the best education in the world! They take our jobs, too….What we need is a wall on our southern border.
I liked that the author sprinkled Spanish words and phrases in the story, giving it a more authentic flavor and reminding the reader that the protagonists weren’t American, but I started feeling it was being overdone. There was one part where Tacho talks for 6 or 7 sentences in Spanish, and in the next line, I read this:
All the girlfriends noted that Tacho was venting his profound disquiet over their recent spate of bad luck and trouble.
Yes, that’s TRUE, but I felt like I was watching a foreign film where someone goes on and on and then on the subtitles I see: “I said no.” I want to yell at the TV and say, “Okay, yes, maybe that’s the GIST of what the person’s saying, but I’m missing so much when you PARAPHRASE.” I’ll admit this was the only time I noticed the author writing a whole paragraph in Spanish, but I think the Spanish words sprinkled in the story could have been done a little less liberally.
One highlight in the book is the humor. Luis Alberto Urrea has a great sense of humor that comes across in his writing. I’m sure this would be a great book to listen to on audio as I’m sure it would make you laugh out loud. One incident in the book has to do with Tacho, who can’t help but find himself in bizarre situations, and he’s eventually separated from the group because when they’re caught by the border patrol, Tacho says in Spanish, “La Mano Caido”, which sounds like Al Qaeda in English, so he’s taken to be interrogated. Urrea deftly plays on words, making the reading a lot of fun.
Nayeli is also a sympathetic character, determined to bring back men to protect her town as well as find her father who abandoned her family and who is now living in the United States.
All in all, this book didn’t work for me. It did, however, make me look at immigration slightly differently than I did before I read the book.
Rating: 75 out of 100
Book source: I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.
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