Folks in the book publishing industry are always trying to figure out how to increase book sales. Will a short video about the book, posted on a book’s web site, somehow generate sales? Is there a point, even, for a book to have a web site? Will a positive review really help? And what about blurbs: does anyone actually buy a book because it features a glowing blurb from a favorite author?
I have no idea what the answers might be to any of these questions. What I do know is that I am extremely fortunate and super excited about receiving my first blurb for Working in the Shadows, from none other than Luis Alberto Urrea! If you don’t know Urrea, you should really check him out–he’s an incredible writer of both non-fiction, fiction, and poetry.
While I was sweating away in the lettuce fields of Yuma, I often thought about his groundbreaking work, The Devil’s Highway.
The book with the beautifully haunting/hauntingly beautiful cover tells the story of a large group of migrants–from various parts of Mexico–who cross the border near the Yuma area in the middle of the summer. Of the twenty-six in the group, fourteen die. Urrea does an incredible job piecing together the various aspects of the tragedy: the individual motivations of each crosser; the government border strategies that lead migrants into such unforgiving terrain and frequent death; and the heroic actions of actual Border Patrol rescue agents, who clean up after the mess their superiors have created by doing whatever possible to save the lives of men, women, and children.
But what really stays with the reader are Urrea’s descriptions of death in the desert. I’ve gone on two trips looking for distressed migrants in the border area. One was with a group called the Samaritans: our guide was a very earnest white man who we followed around and listened to as he shouted, “No Tengo Miedo!” He was hoping to comfort folks by letting them know that they shouldn’t be afraid, but unfortunately was announcing that he wasn’t afraid. So no one approached us, perhaps because a gringo wandering around in the desert yelling that he wasn’t afraid of anything was, well, frightening.
The second trip was with a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who puts out water for crossers on the Nation’s sprawling reservation southwest of Tucson, which includes 75 miles of the US-Mexico border. We were looking for the remains of a Guatemalan female who had gone missing a few weeks back, but didn’t find anything.
Despite having some exposure to the incredible summertime heat of the Sonoran Desert, reading The Devil’s Highway forever changed how I think about heat exposure and thirst. I actually read the book while holed up in a Lake Tahoe cabin during a snowstorm, and have determined ever since that if I am some day presented with the option of death by cold or heat, I’ll take cold every time.
But back to books and blurbs. Being a huge fan of Urrea, I was delighted yesterday to receive the following blurb (or “El Blurbo” as Urrea called it) about Working in the Shadows:
“This is a big-hearted American book, audacious and bold. Gabriel Thompson goes the distance, and should help silence the nativist nabobs and peddlers of racial propaganda who clog the immigration discourse today. In the spirit of Upton Sinclair, it’s an ode to the working human–whether that worker comes from Iowa or Michoacan.”
I don’t really have much more to say about it, except that it left a smile on my face for a very long time.