This is a short but extremely powerful book, which details Valeria Luiselli’s work as an interpreter for child migrants crossing the Mexico-US border. The 40 questions which provide the structure are those which form the questionnaire that Luiselli is meant to go through with the children she is working with – questions that are, by turns, banal, useless, or impossible for them to answer. Luiselli cleverly uses it to both bring individual stories to the surface and also to critique the fallibilities and nonsenses of the system she is operating in – a system which she too has had to navigate.
The stories are devastating and sobering by turns. Luiselli doesn’t claim objectivity, but she is excellent at conveying the cold brutality of the administrative bureaucracy the children are put through, and how little it relates or responds to the reality of the context they have come from (or are going to). And, for a slim non-fiction book, I learned a lot about the gangs and the journeys the children have to survive as well as the logistical labyrinth that awaits them on arrival. [And thank heaven that there are interpreters like Luiselli who are there when they get there, without whom they would be even more screwed].
It is relatively easy, I think, for UK spectators to just hear the Trump rhetoric about the Wall and about Mexicans, and know that he is wrong and simplistic and reductive. But what this book gives is depth and colour to that simplistic background – and it’s an important and moving read that comes highly recommended.
BUY IT NOW: Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions