A Couple of Crossing Reviews

From the Chicago Tribune:


By Melissa Pritchard. Melissa Pritchard is the author of two novels,

"Phoenix" and "Selene of the Spirits," and two...


By Manuel Luis Martinez

Bilingual Press, 119 pages, $11 paper

In brutal, cautionary contrast, Manuel Luis Martinez's first book,

"Crossing," relates the horrific tale of another immigration,

illegally, from the entrenched and desperate impoverishment of Mexico

to the shimmering, treacherous mirage of America, "el norte." A

newspaper account from a 1971 edition of the San Antonio Dispatch

about 12 undocumented immigrants who died in an abandoned boxcar in El

Paso provided haunting inspiration for Martinez's fictionalized

account of their slow, torturous route not to jobs or a better life,

but to death.

This allegoric tale is starkly and hypnotically related by Luis, a

16-year-old boy determined to leave behind a life of hardship most

recently marked by the death of his father. What was to have been a

clandestine but short journey across the border to Texas turns into

hellish, unrelenting confinement and crucifying abandonment. Twelve

men, connected to one another not by family or faith but only by the

desperate hope for a better material life, are left to die in fiery

heat and utter darkness. Suffering, violence, madness and confessions

of past wrongs measure their slow, excruciating descent.

As these men cross an invisible border from hope to torment, from

dreams of prosperity or even simple sustenance to the vile reality of

death, Luis' memories of his father's love give him strength to

survive. In the devil's womb of a locked boxcar with diminishing

supplies of food and water, these men's lives are brutally disposed of

by impersonal forces of greed and by the actions of that most callous

of men, the "coyote," a trafficker in human flesh. In this brief,

wrenching tale, the single connection linking 13 strangers is the

dream betrayed, the untimely and grotesque crossing into death and, in

Luis' case, near-death.

If the human seasons from birth to death are an ineffable mystery to

Petrakis, to be held sacred in the context of family and community,

then the story Martinez tells is a rebuke to the cold injustice of

certain governments, to the profane geography of nations that all too

often draw lines of exclusion and suffering across the silent but

witnessing earth.

From the New York Times


Manuel Luis Martinez

Bilingual Press, $11, paper                                                                             

              February 14, 1999

              By DAVID MURRAY

                   The ''crossing'' of Manuel Luis Martínez's novel is the attempt by a 16-year-old named Luis to trade a life of rural poverty in Mexico for work in the fields of Texas. To this end, he gives a sizable sum of money to a ''coyote'' who will smuggle him across the border and, with 12 other illegal immigrants, is locked into an old freight car for a journey, meant to last hours, that somehow stretches into days of darkness and stultifying heat. Very quickly, Luis realizes that some of his fellow travelers are not only stupid but dangerous. Chief among these is Pablo, who begins as a bully and soon becomes a murderous dictator. Luis's closest companion is Berto, an old man who insists on passing the time by spinning yarns about his youth as a vaquero, a sort of campesino Quixote. Martínez has based the plot of ''Crossing'' on a newspaper account of 12 undocumented workers who suffocated in a boxcar near El Paso, and while he tells his version of the story convincingly, he mars it with patches of overwriting and a somewhat hectic pace. The reader finishes ''Crossing'' feeling both drawn to and frustrated by its central character. We are, above all, curious to know how the tenacity and resourcefulness Luis has learned in this violent darkness might serve him in a sunlit world.

                             Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company