Enrique’s Journey – Book Review

Fearless journalist amazes me; Sonia Nazario certainly fits the bill. Evolving from her award-winning newspaper series in Los Angeles Times, she writes a story of an arduous journey of a Honduran boy, Enrique. In 2000, 16-year-old Enrique left his home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to North Carolina in search of his mother.

While most writers conduct research in the comfort of their library or by “googling” or surfing the internet, Nazario retraces Enrique’s 1,600-miles-journey from Honduras to Texas by foot, train and living in motels. She interviews people who have helped and met Enrique along his journey.

Nazario claims that she is not a brave person; however, this book proves otherwise.

Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, leaves Honduras without saying goodbye to him and his older sister-Belky. Unable to feed her children, Lourdes decides to follow the foot steps of thousands Central Americans who left their country to travel north to the USA in pursuit of a better life. She promises herself that she’d return home as soon as she earns enough money. Enrique was five when she left him. Years passed but Lourdes fails to keep her word.

In her absence, Enrique was passed along from a relative to a relative in search of a better home. He grows up in rebellion; what he fails to understand is that he lacks maternal love every growing child deserves.

Honduras – like her other Central American’s counterparts – is steeped in corruption, caught in political turmoil, poverty and drug abuses. Enrique makes up the rising statistic of drug users by sniffing glue. Glue sniffing is a form of escapism for him to forget his frustration. Enrique’s salvation comes in a form of two women – his grandmother Maria and his girlfriend, Maria Isabel.

At 16, Enrique sets off his journey of 1,600 miles from Tegucigalpa to Texas – with little money but abundant of naive bravery. He must pass Guatemala before attempting to get to Mexico before proceeding to cross the 2,000 miles stretch of Mexico-Texas border.

Enrique begins his journey by sitting atop of moving freight train dubbed as El Tren de la Muerte (The Train of Death). Aboard this train, Enrique encounters the worst part of his journey, where he and other immigrants, risk being captured by the authority; or pushed off from the train. Gangsters, bandits, the Mexican police force and La Migra (Mexican immigration authority) hinder Enrique’s path. They prey on immigrants like dogs. The authorities and bandits push the immigrants off the train, extort their money and, sometimes, beat them senseless.

Immigrants, onboard Train of Death, strap themselves atop the coach to avoid falling off from the moving train. At times, they talk to each other loudly to combat sleepiness at night. They duck out and flatten themselves to the coach as branches of tree graze the train. Often, they go without food or drinks for days on end. In writing this story, Nazario, once spots an immigrant child drinking from a puddle of dirty water laced with diesel by the rail track.

Enrique progresses to La Arocera after his 7th attempt. He endures being beaten up on the train. He seeks help from a local named Olga in Chiapas. Nazario tells the story beautifully as she sits atop the train herself to experience, what she calls, only a fraction of what the boy has gone through.

Enrique fears capture and deportation back to Honduras more that death itself. He eludes the authorities by sleeping at cemeteries and working with locals in exchange for food and boarding. His misery continues as he reaches Nuevo Lavedo, the US-Mexican border. He lost his mother’s phone number in North Carolina and he doesn’t have any money to call home so that they could provide him the same. In Nuevo Lavedo, Enrique shelters with other immigrants by the riverside controlled by El Tirindaro, a heroin addict and immigrant-smuggler. Enrique washes cars and begs in the street to earn the pesos he desperately needs to buy the phone card.

On May 19, 2000 Lourdes hears Enrique on the phone saying “Mami?” She answers with with “Hola mi hijo.” Hello my son. Lourdes pays El Tirindaro $1,200 to smuggle her son to her. Enrique fears desert and its inhabitants; raucous hyenas and poisonous scorpions. He chooses to cross the river of Rio Grande to get into Texas. Once again, he tempts death. Many immigrants have drowned while trying to cross the dangerous river.

God must be listening. Enrique arrives at Lourdes’ doorstep.

In North Carolina, Enrique finds that life isn’t bed of roses either. Despite making decent money doing painting job, he struggles to bond with his mother. They know nothing about each other. He resents Lourdes for abandoning him and Belky. Lourdes thinks he should be thankful because it had been a struggle for her to send money home to him.

Nazario made further research on the relationship between migrant parents and their children after the much-awaited reunion. Often, the family reunion among them disintegrates. The emotional scars are just too much to be ignored. Some seek ways to rectify the damage; others remain restless wanderers.

The writer takes five years to complete this book. Apart from sitting atop the Train of Death, she traces Enrique’s steps by visiting the places he went. She interviews the people who helped or met Enrique in his journey. She bugs Mexican authorities to give their side of the story. She climbs hill to meet Enrique’s grandmother. Amidst doing all these, she realizes the grave danger she puts herself in. Hers is path less-traveled.

My reading journey has been immensely enriched by this book. It humbles me and, hopefully, other readers too. I feel for Sue, my domestic helper, who leaves behind her two growing children and husband in Jawa Barat. She leaves anyway to give them more than what her country has to offer her. I fervently hope that she will not loose the love of her children like Lourdes.

Nazario concludes the book by leaving her readers wondering whether the immigrants’ choice to leave their native country is worth risking losing their children’s affection. You will also be asking whether the US’s policy on illegal immigrants would have any effect at all when the economy of the Central-Americans continues to plunge deeper into misery.

This is one non-fiction you must read. Highly recommended. Happy New Year.

  • Title: Enrique’s Journey
  • Local Price: RM55.90 (Times)
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Genre: Biography/Non-Fiction
  • ISBN: 978-0-8129-7178-1

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated in Rawalpindi


The first female Prime Minister of Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto – was assassinated today after addressing a crowd during an election rally in Rawalpindi. She was shot in the neck by a gunman who then blew off a bomb shortly thereafter. 14 or 15 more people died from the blast and several others were reportedly injured. 

Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October this year after spending many years in United Arab Emirates and London in exile to elude corruption charges against her. She returned to Pakistan after striking a power-sharing agreement with President Pervez Musharaff.

The relationship between the two has been on the rock since Ms. Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan. President Musharaff, however, condemns the attack and calls for peace in Pakistan.

Pakistan has plunged itself deeper into conflicts with Ms. Bhutto’s assassination; leaving the people wondering whether the general election on 8th January 2008 will, in fact, go ahead as scheduled.

Both Benazir and her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, died because of politics. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed in 1979.

[Source of news and picture are courtesy of BBC]

Monsoon Books


The publisher of Monsoon Books, Phil Tatham, privately emailed me about the offers and promotions in his independent publishing house based in Singapore.

Monsoon Books is also a publisher for Growing Up in Trengganu (GUiT). GUiT is now smiling from No.1 spot in MPH bestseller’s list. Way to go AG!

For books on discounts from Monsoon Books, please click here.

For FREE books from Monsoon Books, please click here.

p/s: Psssssttt! Awang Goneng is reading his book in Bangsar on the 29th December 2007. Read about it here.

[Picture courtesy of David Robert Books]

Quaint Christmas Card


I have been staring at the mountain of files in front of me for the past two hours or so. Nothing is moving on this auspicous christmas eve. A client rebuffed my phone call a while ago with “Ala… we give you your documents after the new year lah, we are having christmas lunch.” Oh well, that’s it then, I’ ll leave early today and spend some times chasing the little-terror at home.

However, my heart was touched this morning with the arrival of a quaint christmas card all the way from Twickenham, England via snail mail. My dear friend, Hjh. Esah, apparently does not believe in sending christmas greeting virtually; neither do I. It has been ages since I received anything with a British postmark on the envelope. Thank you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Sunday Evening with Awang Goneng

Few bloggers gathered on Sunday the 9th of December 2007 at Kinokuniya, KLCC to meet the author of Growing Up in Trengganu (GUiT) – Wan A. Hulaimi together with his lovely wife, Zaharah Othman. The event was arranged by Jaflam who was kind enough to extend the invitation to us all. For better coverage of the event, please click Captain Ancient Mariner and Pak Zawi.

I had a ball of a time and as for Luqman, well, he has fun everywhere he goes so long as he doesn’t have to be still! Sigh.

Shall we proceed with pictures then? Kindly take note that pictures are courtesy of Mat Salo of Borneo Blues.

Standing from left: Dr. Bubbles, Pak Zawi, Jaflam, Zabs & Mat Salo

Sitting from left: Wan, Awang Goneng, Kak Teh, Captain Yusof, Akmal, Luqman & Mommy

I heard he hates being photographed (evil laugh – muahahahahaha!)

I have to strain my eyes to actually believe that he is writing my name. Nice hand, don’t you think?

Luqman and the Author with Jaflam looking on. Luqman is AG’s youngest fan. LOL!

Tender moments with the Author…

Pak Zawi & his newly-acquired grandson

Yours truly, Awang Goneng & Luqman Zain

*9th of December 2007 also marks the lovely couple’s 28th wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary to Awang Goneng & Kak Teh.

Free Edmund Bon! Free Amir! Free all of them!

Let me get this straight: you arrested Edmund Bon because he refused to pin down the posters displayed at a building owned by the Bar Council? I repeat, at a building owned by the Bar Council?? Oh! Come on now! What rubbish?

Lest we forget, Article 10 of  the Federal Constitution enshrines the following rights to everyone:

10(a) every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression;

10(b) all citizens have the right to assembly peaceably and without arms;

So, tell me, are we moving towards ignoring the Federal Constitution completely? This is wrong. This is just wrong. Please free all of my sisters and brothers – my fervent and only wish on this World’s Human Right Day.  

Or am I just shouting in vain and paying the price of being an idealist? Tell me, tell me please…

*Pictures courtery of the Sun and Shanghai Fish.

p/s: Hold on to your horses Mat Salo, the book signing post is coming up shortly.

Amer Hamzah Arshad

Okay, I am all for freedom of expression. I also believe that this beloved nation is built from street protests initiated by our forefathers. Heck, I even walked under the rain with my brothers and sisters during Penguin March not so long ago.

Considering walking or excercising is as bizzare to me as the sun is to an eskimo, the walk will forever be etched in my memory as my single contribution to something I whole-heartedly believe in: the independence of the judiciary.

But this Sunday afternoon, my heart breaks when the 1.30 news reported that Amer Hamzah Arshad was arrested during the Freedom Walk. The Walk which was initially planned by the Bar Council; has been controversially cancelled amidst the tussle of getting permit between the Bar and the Police. However, brave souls could not be easily dettered by mere formality. Walk they did this morning.

My senior in college, Amer Arshad, was an extremely bright student. Though a bit reclusive and a tad eccentric, Amer, always stands up for what he believes in. His aptitude to excel soars as he rises to be one of the nation’s most prominent young litigation lawyers.

Now, I am sure the arrest is unnecessary because Amer that I know all these years, would not harm a fly. Firm in what he believes in – yes. A threat to anyone? Never. What a grave mistake it is to arrest the country’s prominent lawyer when the crime rate in the city is soaring up  to the sky.

And of course, Nurin Jazlin’s killer is still at large as we speak; enjoying life as it is despite the henious crime he/she has committed. Que sera sera.