The COASTAL STAR
The dangerous, deadly quest to get into the United States
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border By Francisco Cantú. Riverhead, 250 pp., $26 By Bill Williams ArtsPaper Book Writer After Francisco Cantú graduated from college with honors, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Border Patrol, which detains Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States. The author’s illuminating prose cites injustices and tragedy on both sides of the border. Mexicans enter the United States in the middle of the night far from cities and wander in the desert for days without food or water, hoping they will be rescued. Agents frequently come upon bodies. A half-naked man is found curled up in the fetal position. He had been drinking his own urine for four days to survive. Some fleeing Mexicans are desperate to find work, while others want to escape cartel-inspired violence. Thousands are targeted by the drug cartels, which sometimes cut off the heads of their victims. During a two-month period, 460 bodies were delivered to a Mexican morgue near the border. Cantú talked to his second-generation Mexican mother, who spent years as a U.S. park ranger. She told her son not to become a Border Patrol agent, but he dismissed her advice, looking forward to working outdoors in the vast countryside. But the author soon tired of his job. “I had reached a point at which I could barely sleep, a point at which my mind had become so filled with violence that I could barely perceive beauty in the landscape around me,” he said. He moved to a desk job before quitting the Border Patrol. He then worked in a coffee shop near the border while studying for a master’s degree. Cantú befriended Jose, a Mexican who had crossed into the United States illegally more than 30 years before. Jose has three sons, ages 15, 10 and 8, when he receives word that his ailing mother is dying in Mexico. He decides he must visit her before she dies, knowing he will not be allowed to return to America because of his status as an illegal immigrant. After he sees his mother, he is caught crossing the border. He is sent back to Mexico by a judge who warns him that he will face a long prison term if he is caught crossing again. But Jose cannot accept the idea that he might never again see his sons. Jose’s case is relevant to the debate about allowing longtime illegal residents to remain in America. In this case, a model father is cut off from his sons. By sending illegal immigrants back to Mexico, Jose says, “the U.S. is making criminals out of those who could become its very best citizens.” The author has mixed feelings about the Border Patrol. Some agents are cruel and abusive, while others sympathize with the plight of desperate illegal immigrants. One man told agents about a woman and her daughter dying in the desert. They found the woman’s body, which was decomposing, and a girl who was missing a leg. “Even the agents began to cry.” Cantú describes the horrific bloodshed in areas of Mexico controlled by drug cartels. During a six-year period, the government recorded 100,000 cartel murders. The author’s experience as a border agent changed him, giving him a deeper insight into the failure of U.S. immigration policy. Although the book is filled with vivid prose, Cantú skips around too much, mixing history, background and sometimes confusing dialogue. Jose will do anything, even at the risk of serving a long prison term, to be able to see his boys again. “My boys are not dogs to be abandoned in the street,” he says. “I will walk through the desert for five days, eight days, ten days, whatever it takes to be with them.” Jose has tried four times in six months to sneak across the border, without success. Readers are left not knowing where he is living, cut off from his wife and children. Bill Williams is a freelance writer in West Hartford, Conn., and a former editorial writer for The Hartford Courant. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Palm Beach Book Festival authors will discuss grace in troubled times By Georgio Valentino Contributing Writer
Every spring, a hand-picked selection of the country’s most celebrated writers descends on the Palm Beaches for a boutique book festival of chart-topping proportions. Among the headliners of this fourth annual edition of the Palm Beach Book Festival are multiple awardwinning authors Dan Rather and Kwame Alexander. The event is the brainchild of novelist Lois Cahall. Although she considers herself first and foremost a writer, Cahall has operated across media, building her successful “Screen Queen” persona through print, radio and Cahall television from her erstwhile home base in New York. “Many years ago,” Cahall says, “Oprah taught me to become a ‘three media convergence.’ So, I used my written movie reviews for my radio show and my advice columns in women’s magazines for my TV spots. At the time, my radio was sponsored by Blockbuster. That tells you how far this goes back. That tells you how very old I am!” The media maven would eventually land in the Palm Beaches, where she leveraged her decades of experience to found the Palm Beach Book Festival in 2015. From the start, it was conceived as an intimate — even exclusive — event. “The Palm Beach Book Festival is the Oscars of books,” Cahall declares. “If you’re a book lover, we have more celebrity under one roof in one day than any other event in Palm Beach County, or so the local powers-that-be have told me. But beyond that, and here’s the most important bit, I’m not paying my authors. They believe in my cause of nurturing the written word. Most of the authors are friends. Last year I brought in $1 million worth of guest speaking talent for free.” This year’s talent includes Kwame Alexander and Kirstin Chen, who kick off the public portion of the festival April 14 with a discussion on family, love and hope. Also on hand will be mystery writer Joseph Finder and humorist (and doglover) W. Bruce Cameron. Guest authors are selected in keeping with a different theme each year. The current one couldn’t be more timely. “This year’s theme is grace, dignity and humanity in a time of worldwide crisis,” Cahall says. “I love all the authors, and I picked them all for various reasons. If it’s a friend, I try to
Bestselling author Kwame Alexander will be on hand to kick off the Palm Beach Book Festival. Photo provided
If You Go The Palm Beach Book Festival is open to the public April 14 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, 650 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $75-$100 Info: palmbeach bookfestival.com make it work. Last year I had several friends on the ῾New York Times’ best-seller list simultaneously, so it was easy.” Indeed, one of Cahall’s writer friends nearly helped her land a former vice president as special guest. “Joe Biden was our choice to come in, as my friend was the ghostwriter on his latest memoir,” Cahall confides. “We had Joe locked last July. Then the months dragged on. Joe wanted to come in during his autumn book tour. But we were an April festival. I got worried
he’d run for president, which meant he wouldn’t have time to come in for April. “So around Christmas, just before we announced the lineup, Dan Rather’s amazing book 'What Unites Us' arrived. I had tears by the second page for all that he says about patriotism. The way it used to be. Honoring our parks, schools, history, etc. I knew he was our man given our theme. I called and we locked him days later.” There’s also an Oprah’s Book Club panel featuring author Mira T. Lee, whose debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful, has earned her accolades from the highest authorities. The panel is moderated by O Book Club curator Leigh Haber. When asked whether Oprah Winfrey herself might one day appear at the festival, Cahall makes an only slightly tonguein-cheek prediction. “Yes,” she muses, “when she has her memoir, we’re a good stop on her presidential tour. Wink.”
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