American Book Award Winner: A “moving, intimate” account of serving as a translator for undocumented children facing deportation (The New York Times Book Review).
Nonfiction Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
Finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
Structured around the forty questions volunteer worker Valeria Luiselli translates from a court system form and asks undocumented Latin American children facing deportation, Tell Me How It Ends humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction between the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants and the reality of racism and fear—here and back home.
“Luiselli’s prose is always lush and astute, but this long essay, which borrows its framework from questions on the cold, bureaucratic work sheets with which she became so familiar (for example, ‘Did anything happen on your trip to the U.S. that scared or hurt you?’), is teeming with urgency…In this slim volume about the spectacular failure of the American Dream, she tells the stories of the unnamed children she’s encountered and their fears and desires, as well as her own family’s immigration story.” —Vulture
“Worthy of inclusion in a great American (and international) canon of writing about migration.” –Texas Observer
“A powerful indictment of American immigration policy, [Tell Me How It Ends] examines a system that has failed child refugees in particular.” —Financial Times
“Masterfully blends journalism, auto/biography, and political history into a compelling and cohesive narrative. . . . Luiselli uses the personal to get political but smartly sidesteps identity politics to focus on policy instead.”—The Rumpus
From 2014 to 2015, Mexican writer Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth) volunteered as an interpreter with an immigration court in New York, where she administered a 40-question survey to unaccompanied and undocumented minors who fled Central America for the United States. She began this work during an unprecedented surge in the number of minors crossing the border. This book-length essay is a meditation on this crisis viewed through the lens of the survey questions, the most vital of which, "Why did you come to the United States?", often determines the outcome of the child's bid for citizenship: the more terrifying the circumstance, the better the chances. It is a distressingly Kafkaesque path to citizenship in which children are responsible for securing their own lawyers, and are often required to display physical injuries to prove themselves worthy of assistance. Luiselli explores the plights these children are fleeing gang violence that can be traced to American anti-immigration policies, drug use, and arms trafficking as well as their harrowing journeys, many riding atop Mexican freight trains (known as la Bestia, the Beast) to the border. In a coda, Luiselli highlights a student group at Hofstra University working to improve conditions for immigrants via educational and recreational programs. This is a vital document for understanding the crisis that immigrants to the U.S. are facing, and a call to action for those who find this situation appalling. This review has been corrected to fix a minor typo.