His poignant, widely acclaimed account of the struggle of these people to survive amid the abject poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and legal and political chaos that reign in the Mexican borderlands vividly illustrated why so many are forced to make the treacherous and illegal journey “across the wire” into the United States. Written with the same unflagging curiosity, compassion, mordant wit, and novelistic sense of detail that made Across the Wire “a work of investigative reporting that is also a bittersweet song of human anguish” (Los Angeles Times), By the Lake of Sleeping Children explores the post-NAFTA and Proposition 187 border purgatory of garbage pickers and dump dwellers, gawking tourists and relief workers, fearsome coyotes and their desperate clientele. In sixteen indelible portraits, Urrea illuminates the horrors and the simple joys of people trapped between the two worlds of Mexico and the United States – and ignored by both. The result is a startling and memorable work of first-person reportage.
About By the Lake of Sleeping Children
The cover shot, of a flooded graveyard, is by Tony DelCavo, of Bella Luna Books in Colorado. Tony and Pam sell my signed stuff, if you’re collectors. Once I kick the bucket, that stuff will be worth six or seven bucks on eBay, so you should get some.
It was a few years later. Post-Across the Wire. I had been schmoozed by movie producers, done a play based on the last book, chatted with Carlos Santana (HOLY CRAP) on the phone about Tijuana, done national tours, seen my first ,marriage implode, published other books. AND I WAS BROKE.
I was in Tucson, in a frickin’ haunted adobe full of devils and wraiths, trying to research version 148 of what would come to be called The Hummingbird’s Daughter . I had been writing for the San Diego Reader and the Tucson Weekly. Though I thought the border was toast—thought I’d put the period at the end of the sentence witn A. T. W., I found out the border is the gift that keeps on giving. New nightmares. New love songs. New poems. New hope. New horror.
I got a weird call from some women who had escaped a sex-slave ring. How weird is that? Pretty weird, the new suburban dad version of me says. Luis.2. But back then, this kind of thing went on all day long. Lowry Pei, of Harvard, told me: “You are a weirdness generator.” So the women called me because they had known an Urrea once and found my name in a pay-phone’s directory as they hid from the rampaging sex-master freak bus driver out hunting them in South Tucson. My cousin Esperanza and I smuggled them back into Mexico, not knowing that the Border Patrol could have arrested us. Hey, we thought—we’re goin’ SOUTH. No harm, no foul.
One day, I realized I needed money. Like, yesterday. I was lucky enough to be working with the awesome Martha Levin at Anchor. The Boss. I called her and said, “Got a sequel to Across the Wire.” She said, “How soon can you write it?” I said, “Six weeks.” She said, “How much do you want” I told her. “Deal,” she said.
I didn’t realize how magical, in a 1940s kind of way, that bit of publishing negotiation was.
I also didn’t realize how anguished and fiery that book would turn out to be.
I was writing in blood.