Review Sources (Magill's Literary Annual 2005)
Booklist 100, no. 13 (March 1, 2004): 1118.
Entertainment Weekly, April 2, 2004, p. 69.
Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 3 (February 1, 2004): 124.
Library Journal 129, no. 5 (March 15, 2004): 96.
Mother Jones 29, no. 3 (May/June, 2004): 86.
Publishers Weekly 251, no. 10 (March 8, 2004): 66.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 4, 2004, p. M1.
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The Devil’s Highway recounts the May 2001 journey of twenty-six Mexican immigrants into the United States through the Arizona border. The desert, mountains, towns, and climate of the southwestern United States (and northern Mexico) is central to the story. The map that Urrea provides in the book is a peripatetic guide for the setting; the reader can follow the map to understand the group as a whole and individual walkers as they meet their fates.
When the book begins, the reader immediately senses the desperation, confusion, and utter helplessness of five men who stumble out of a mountain pass near Interstate 8 in Arizona. These men have just emerged from the intense desert sun and heat. They are burned black and their lips are cracking and huge. Dust has settled into their eyes. Their dehydration has shriveled organs inside of their bodies. The entire scene conjures a hallucinatory effect. Urrea describes the walkers’ uncertain eyesight, sights of God or the devil, poisonous systems from ingesting their own urine, and utter madness.
Urrea uses the geography of the area to dizzying effect. As this group of immigrants make it through the Granite Mountains of southern Arizona, they have no idea where they are. They stumble through the canyons toward Yuma, but they do not know if they are heading in that direction. They end up at the south end of the U.S. Air Force’s Barry Goldwater bombing range. It is as if every evil has come together in this one spot.
This region has been called the Devil’s Highway as far back as 1850 when a westerner named Francisco Salazar wrote the Devil’s Highway was “a vast graveyard of the unknown dead....the scattered bones of human beings slowly turning to dust.”
Urrea provides a setting that is steeped in history—and still feels the effects of its ghosts in the twenty-first century. The first white man died in this desert in 1541. Many white men came after (the Spaniards nd missionaries) and died in this treacherous and noxious place. Cannibalism and other outrageous horrors have bled into the very ground of this desert. Poison from snakes, spiked saguaros, toxic plants, and alien scorpions and tarantulas dot the region and add to the horror.
In the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge area the desert becomes the “evil” desert. In their madness, the five stumbling men curse everything here: the Mexican government, the U.S. government, Don...
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