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

21 thoughts on “Enrique’s Journey – Book Review

  1. EM,

    Splendid review, I feel like buying the book now. What to do… got to work.

    Perfect posting to end 2007.


    Thank you. I am sorry you have to work. Its okay, Kino & Times near your office open till later…

  2. Elviza
    You get better and better. Has the producer of Sadiq and Co. (Red Communication/NTV7) approached you yet to write an episode or three ? We passed MRSM KT twice the other day, first on the way to Kg. China and later on the way back to Penarik to gorge sotong/udang/ikan celup tepung by the beach.

    Guess what I was thinking each time I passed that huge huge college? Happy New Year to you too. I’ve reponded to your comment in Sangsura but it still hasn’t appeared. Sigh.


    As usual, you are too generous with your compliments. And no, no one from NTV7 calls me as we speak 🙂

    You did??? You passed my alma mater? What a great place. Tempat jatuh lagi dikenang inikan pula taman permainan.

    Happy New Year to you my friend. On a lighter note, I ll be more than happy to give you that 1/2 hour you need to open your blog. What say you?

  3. Pingback: Bookmarks Tagged Thankful

  4. Doh bak per mung jadi loyar…..?

    Writing is your true calling lah. Menyusohkan diri sendiri jer

    (Gulp!) Cannot answer lah… doh takdir kot…

  5. At first glance I thought this was an autobiography by Luis Enrique Martinez the former Barcelona midfielder.

    Well-written El, but my sincerest apology for this has nothing to do with the book review. Just to wish you and hub and Luke a very happy and prosperous new Year. Have a great 2008!

    Little Bro – Kerp,

    Hah, I know nothing about football. Except for that the ex-good looking trainer for Chelsea. And I heard he was fired by Abromovich. Shessh…

    Happy New Year to you to Kerp!

  6. The book must really be a good read otherwise how could you find time to finish it?
    Hug Luqman for me.
    Happy new year to you and Jefri.


    I shamelessly steal time to read. Steal time from my work, steal time from my son (guiltyyyyy nyaaaa!), steal time from my husband… Sigh. Happy New Year to you to Pak…

  7. Happy New Year sis Elviza. May God (Ahem) bless your family always. I hope u would wish the same for me? 🙂

    Dear Harrison,

    Of course, I wish just the same for you and your family dear friend…

  8. Happy New Year Elviza! May you be able to read more books and do more reviews in 2008… 😉

    Happy New Year to you to Pi! Yeah yeah, lets read more, give to charity more and buat yang baik2 more 🙂

  9. Sis Elviza,

    A very Happy New Year to you, Jefri and Luke. May new hopes and vision arise from the horizon for all of us.

    Your review is very much a thread of your personal journey. You really read interactively. You relate the story with your personal encounter in the person of your housekeeper. I can sense your gratitude while at same time bonding with others of similar fate who by force of circumstances had to leave their loved ones behind.

    I like the word naive courage. We need a bit of naivity to take the plunge. Sometimes, with mistaken belief, misfortune cannot touch us. But if we don’t take risk, would life be worth living?

    I think the writer shld win a grand prize of this biography of courage and fate. She gets under the skin of the subject makes her fearless. But by her own admission, she was far from that. This best exemplifies courage of the high order. Courage to act in spite of real and imaginary fears.

    How does one find courage amid misgivings? More often than not, we find individuals who choose to live for a higher cause, willing to forgo comfort, safety and pleasure to answer the call of duty.

    Dear Hi & Lo,

    Nazario won a lot of accolades for her quest in reporting this true story. And trust me, if you decide to read this book, please clear your schedule as it is rather impossible to put it down.

    I believe courage will knock on the doors of the brave – like Enrique. Good day my friend.

  10. Elviza,

    If you ever write a book in the future, you can be sure that I am definitely going to get my hands on it.

    Happy New Year and I am looking forward to read more book reviews from you.

    Dear Nana,

    You are too generous with compliments. Like I told Mat Bangkai, what could I possibly write about? Crappiest of the crap? Tee hee hehe … 🙂

    Happy New Year to you too my friend and I ll keep in mind about the book reviews.

  11. Happy New Year, Elviza.

    May God prosper thy & family’s way all the days of your life.

    Happy new year to you to my dear friend. I pray the same will be bestowed upon you and your family.

  12. Sis,

    I wish I could write a half-way decent book review. I did try, but yours is so much better-lah. But heck, I’ll try it anyway.. so watch my space soon. Anyway, Have a happy new year and hope this year’s a good year for us and for our friends and families too, ya?


    Everytime I put up a book review, I watch the comment section – in anticipation of your input. Why ah? Must be because you always make me feel like a million bucks! Heh!

    If you read article and books on how to write a book review; you will soon notice that mine does not follow the structure. At all. Main belasah jer…

    What I try to write is, how pleasant my reading journey has been reading a particular book. Thats why kalau buku yang tak best I tak review. Boleh gitu?

    Anyway, I wait for your book review. I am sure it will be to die for. Come back soon

  13. Sis Elviza,

    In your reply to Mat Salo, I like to commend on your originality in book reviewing by ‘breaking the rules.’

    A lot of professional book reviewers or arts critics are tempted to find faults in their reviews as if they are so powerful and influential.

    Reading exposes us to different realities of life. Thanks for exposing us to the pleasures of reading.

    Hi & Lo,

    Reading is also a chaeper means to transport you to another world rather than doing it literally, dont ya think?

  14. Elviza,
    I like the review. The story and the event kind of interesting. Must get one now. Is it available at Borders ,the Curve. It will be a lot nearer to my daughter’s place if it is. On a lighter note, Lourdes should have chose Malaysia instead to migrate.It saves Enrique all the grave danger and hardship to trace her..Don’t you think so?

    Bye and take care.


    I got it in Times One Utam the old wing. But I am sure Borders has it – just dictate to them the ISBN. They are really helpful. If Lourdes comes to M’sia, our currency is not as lucrative as the USD. Think about it. Take care

  15. Jeff & my dahling Elviza….together hug Luqman for me. Everything that is best in 2008 to 3 of you……go ahead lets have another junior will ya!

    To you to Kong2 Bernard! And that s the plan this year…

  16. Here’s wishing you and your family a Happy & Bountiful New Year!
    BTW, thanks for introducing us to monsoon books – I won a free book – should get around to reading and reviewing it!

    Hey you.. yea yea.. lets review books (macam bagus kan?)

  17. I always know you could write.

    Once, you wrote in my note’s book in KT. U name it Tales of two hands under the table…

    Apology if this make you uneasy.

    Is that you? (cat got my tongue). Sigh

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