Cutting for Sign

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For almost 2,000 miles, the border between the United States and Mexico extends through urban centers, arid deserts, lush farmland, empty spaces. A chain-link fence in some parts, a thin stream in another, merely a line on a map for much of its length, the border is important both for what it does and for what it means. As William Langewiesche reveals in his fascinating study, CUTTING FOR SIGN, “the border can be crossed, but never ignored.” Seldom has it received such careful, intelligent consideration, presented in such clear and precise prose, as it does here.

CUTTING FOR SIGN approaches the border in series of personal encounters, as Langewiesche talks with the illegal immigrants who cross over it; rides with the Border Patrol who attempt to stem that tide; listens to farmers, Mexican and American, who grow passionate over that most valuable agricultural commodity, water. He presents their stories cleanly, almost effortlessly, and those stories build the mosaic portrait of the border.

On the northern side of the border, drugs and illegal aliens are major concerns; south of it, enduring subsistence living and the opportunities, however meager and illusory, across the line. Along the border, the first and third worlds meet, sometimes in a confrontation, sometimes in a sad communion. There are doubled towns scattered throughout the length of the border, an uneasy pairing of richness and poverty, possibility and immobility: San Ysidro and Tijuana; Nogales and Nogales, the one in Arizona, the other in Sonora; El Paso and Ciudad Juarez; Brownsville and Matamoros.

Langewiesche knows them all, knows their people and tells their story in CUTTING FOR SIGN. It is a fascinating, illuminating book which speaks of and to the present border situation and the enduring human condition.