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Book Review

Book Review: 'The Line Becomes A River'


Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River, worked four years as a Border Patrol Officer along the borderlands of Mexico before getting his MFA in writing from the University of Arizona. As an agent, he kept a diary.



Cantú’s particular vision about the border comes from his personal experiences. Reconciling the difficulty of his work, Cantú looks into the history of conflict and flawed human services as they have manifest along the dangerous border. Whether through the lens of a young man crossing in the heat of the summer—with possible deadly consequences—or a patrolman coming to the “rescue” of the illegal border crossers, Cantú knows when to pull back or zoom in.  His descriptions of the physical landscape and the dry and desolate expanse make us feel the grit and smell the rare rainstorm. They are marked with an intimacy of the area one could only know by living in it. By infusing his personal narrative with the violent and turbulent history of the region, he gives us narrative non-fiction at its best: with heart, smarts, and soul.

At recent events, there have been protests against the author and the book that humanizes Border Patrol Agents. Cantú recently stated on Twitter: “to be clear, during my years as a BP agent, I was complicit in perpetuating institutional violence and flawed, deadly policy. My book is about acknowledging that, it's about thinking through the ways we normalize violence and dehumanize migrants as individuals and as a society.”