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Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions Paperback – April 4, 2017
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Structured around the forty questions Luiselli translates and asks undocumented Latin American children facing deportation, Tell Me How It Ends humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction between the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants and the reality of racism and fear—both here and back home.
Valeria Luiselli was born Mexico City in 1983 and grew up in South Africa. A novelist (The Story of My Teeth and Faces in the Crowd) and essayist (Sidewalks), her work has been translated into many languages and has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the New Yorker, Granta, and McSweeney’s.
This project made possible with special funding from the Fringe Foundation.
Nonfiction Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
Finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
"As in her hallucinatory and inventive fiction, Luiselli proves her skill as a storyteller while grappling with her own questions of nationalism." —The New Yorker
“Luiselli’s awareness of a story’s ability to restrict informs the book’s judicious use of these children’s lives, as well as its quietly brilliant structure as a series of responses to the questionnaire, which Luiselli describes as a reflection of ‘a colder, more cynical and brutal reality.’ . . . The account that emerges has no fixed origin, and the crisis, as Luiselli wisely points out, belongs not to any specific country or countries but to all of us living in this corner of the world.” —New York Times Sunday Book Review
“This is a vital document for understanding the crisis that immigrants to the U.S. are facing, and a call to action for those who find this situation appalling.” —Publisher's Weekly
“Luiselli effectively humanizes the plights of those who have been demonized or who have been reduced to faceless numbers . . . A powerful call to action and to empathy.” —Kirkus
“These days, the whole world, including our politics, is being shaped by migration. Few people explore the nuances of this reality more skillfully than Valeria Luiselli, a strikingly gifted 33-year-old Mexican writer who knows the migratory experience first-hand. . . . Luiselli takes us inside the grand dream of migration, offering the valuable reminder that exceedingly few immigrants abandon their past and brave death to come to America for dark or nasty reasons. They come as an expression of hope.” —NPR
“Tell Me How It Ends draws from Luiselli’s experience working as an interpreter for child migrants and is structured around the questionnaire she would guide them through. The contrast between the intimacy of their experiences and the impersonality of the system they’ve been thrown into illuminates the horrors of our immigration system.” —Literary Hub
“Valeria Luiselli's latest book, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, is unsparing in its portrayal of vulnerability and determination.” —Rolling Stone
“This moving, intimate narrative about the migration of children from Central America is based in part on the author’s experience as a volunteer court translator.” —New York Times Sunday Book Review
“Tell Me How It Ends is a remarkable little work that, through its narrow lens, says more about the country than books ten times its size.” —GQ
“With anger and lucidity, Luiselli depicts the nightmares these children are forced to flee in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as the destructive ignorance and bigotry that awaits them in America. . . . With a beguiling mixture of compassion and intellectual rigor, she gives her readers the chance to look.” —Chicago Tribune
“So true and moving that it filled me with hopeless hope.” —The Guardian
"...Tell Me How It Ends is a book of staggering emotional power and an incitement to deep shame." —Harper's
“Mexico-born author Valeria Luiselli has written a slim and moving book on her time working as an interpreter for child refugees making their cases, in court, to remain in the United States. The book, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, both broadens our understanding of these children and narrows in on our contradictory reception of them. Luiselli . . . interrogates the American conscience as she questions these children. In doing so, she guides us towards, as she puts it, ‘understanding the unthinkable.’” —The Nation
“The children [Luiselli] works with are fighting to stay in United States, hoping to escape poverty and violence in their homelands. Their stories are artfully and sparingly captured in this slim book, in which Luiselli recounts the 40 questions she asks each child facing deportation.” —MPRNews
“In this compelling, devastating book, Luiselli documents the huge injustices done to the children by both the American and Mexican governments, and by the public who treat them as ‘illegal aliens’, rather than as what they truly are: refugees of war." —The Guardian
“...Tell Me How It Ends is a slight book with a big impact… It is long-form reporting, as well as a kind of memoir — and finally, in its coda, written after Trump’s election, it becomes a call to action.” —The Financial Times
“Luiselli’s prose is always lush and astute, but this long essay, which borrows its framework from questions on the cold, bureaucratic work sheets with which she became so familiar (for example, ‘Did anything happen on your trip to the U.S. that scared or hurt you?’), is teeming with urgency. . . . In this slim volume about the spectacular failure of the American Dream, she tells the stories of the unnamed children she’s encountered and their fears and desires, as well as her own family’s immigration story.” —Vulture
“The tone of [Tell Me How It Ends] is one of profound and committed anger, flawlessly documented, and Luiselli makes a clear and layered case for citizen activism, weaving facts with true emotion as she shapes the narrative.” —Miami Rail
“Translating language, experience, bodies across space and time, thought and culture—Luiselli wants us to join in this work. Tell Me How It Ends calls for a wholesale reimagining of both the forces that have shaped contemporary immigration into the United States as well as the way many Americans, disconnected from fact, picture it. It calls, moreover, for action.” —Brooklyn Magazine
“...Valeria Luiselli’s account of discussions with undocumented children from Latin America facing deportation from the U.S. is a vital book.” —Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"This essay, besides its aesthetic value, is a bold political statement and writing in the service of social activism." —Latin American Literature Today
“Luiselli’s book—an empathetic, personal, and rightfully indignant account of the asylum-seeking process—describes how these migrants have faced anything but an open door.” —In These Times
“In Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions [Luiselli] combines the skills of a journalist who has a sharp eye for significant details with a novelist’s empathy.” —Times Literary Supplement
“[Tell Me How It Ends] is written from a transnational perspective, and all the more lucid for it.” —The Intercept
“A powerful indictment of American immigration policy, [Tell Me How It Ends] examines a system that has failed child refugees in particular.” —Financial Times
“Sharp and compelling, Tell Me How It Ends demands that [these children] be seen.” —World Literature Today
“Tell Me How it Ends is the kind of reading experience that rips your heart out. . . . Luiselli has already demonstrated she’s one of the most powerful young voices in fiction, and with this book she has done the same in the realm of nonfiction. Simply put, this is required reading.” —Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“Tell Me How It Ends itself is also a sharp, useful narrative, a ‘telling better.’ It can be pressed into hands, recommended, and it will open wallets and drive people into the streets to protest.” —Remezcla
“Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions is at once a deft exposition on the injustices of immigration law, the long, bullying history of U.S.-Central American relations, and the obstacles and politics of translation." —The Millions
"Luiselli places a mirror in front of our collective soul.” —Latino Book Review
“In the age of Trump, the call to bring ‘anger and clarity’ to writing refutes the idea that literature is a guilty, escapist indulgence. Tell Me How It Ends insists that artists take action, and its message is clear: we are all deeply implicated in the plight faced by these children.” —Paste
“Tell Me How It Ends is a damning but deeply humane indictment of the narratives with which we’ve built America, both the stories we keep hidden and those we use to justify our cruelty. The experiences of the children Luiselli interviews demand that we complicate our own roles in the immigration crisis’s continent-wide affect; we can’t rewrite what these children have been through, but we must pursue more compassionate, more just stories of our own.” —The Riveter
“Tell Me How It Ends is intimate, heartbreaking, and revealing — and I am convinced the country would be a better place if everyone were required to read it.” —Shondaland
“Luiselli masterfully blends journalism, auto/biography, and political history into a compelling and cohesive narrative. . . . Luiselli uses the personal to get political but smartly sidesteps identity politics to focus on policy instead, thus enabling a broader coalition around immigration in general. Writing clear-eyed, she guides the reader through court proceedings and critiques the language of the law and media (“the word ‘illegal’ prevails over ‘undocumented’ and the term ‘immigrant’ over ‘refugee.’”), without losing sight of her subject: undocumented children.” —The Rumpus
“This essential book humanizes these young migrants, highlights the contradictions of the American Dream, and explores the fear and racism so prevalent for the people who try to make the U.S. their home.” —Literary Hub
“This noble instinct probably feels familiar to the many writers who, since the American political crisis began with the election of Donald J. Trump, have been turning their work outward to looming racial, economic, and environmental injustices. But what Luiselli accomplishes, in her volunteer work and in Tell Me How It Ends, is quite a bit more pointed: a transformation of consciousness.” —Literary Hub
“...Tell Me How It Ends tells the story of [Valeria’s] experience working as a translator, and is a searing indictment of the systems and attitudes that inform the policing of our borders.” —Dissent
“In perhaps the most important book of 2017, Luiselli tells the story of her time volunteering as an interpreter for undocumented children fleeing violence in Central and South America seeking residency in the United States. Luiselli tries to change the way we talk about immigration, especially from our Southern neighbors, by exploring our complicity in the crises that turned these people into refugees and reminding us that quite often, when we're talking about ‘illegal aliens’ and ‘undocumented immigrants,’ or whatever other term someone might try to scare us with, we're talking about children.” —Writer's Bone
“Tell Me How It Ends is the best first book to read about the immigration crisis; if, like Luiselli, you come to the issue with nothing but questions, there is not a better hundred pages for you to read. . . . As the interpreter struggles to bridge the gap between the law and the experiences of children too young to fully understand what has happened to them—and, often, too traumatized to fully explain it—she tells a story without an ending, only a question, only a hope, and only a prayer: to arrive.” —Bookwitty
“This book serves as another wake up call, and, even more importantly, a call to action. . . . It’s another step forward in the strange struggle of our modern age, or maybe it’s any age, the humanizing of humans. The very least we can all do is hear these stories. Read this book.” —Proximity Magazine
“Luiselli’s book . . . becomes worthy of inclusion in a great American (and international) canon of writing about migration.” —Texas Observer
“In Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions Mexican author Valeria Luiselli assumes a role not only as a ‘resident alien’ or interpreter but, more importantly, as a storyteller. She relays the crisis of undocumented youth so we might examine their present struggles and link them to our own inexplicable past.” —Houston Chronicle
“[Tell Me How It Ends] fearlessly delves into the heavy-handed reality of racism that often goes unspoken both in their home country and in America.” —The Riveter Newsletter
“Tell Me How It Ends is a book that turns numbers back into people.” —In Order of Importance
“Thorough, vulnerable, and compassionate, Tell Me How It Ends offers deep inspection on what may be perceived as a ‘long-resolved issue.’ Luiselli writes to keep our eyes open.” —Ploughshares
“It is time for the rest of us to ask our own set of questions about what we expect from our government when it comes to protecting the welfare of vulnerable children. With the help of Tell Me How It Ends, we have more insight than ever into what those questions should be.” —Signature
“Language, and the political weight it carries, is at the heart of this book.” —Bookwitty
“Like her other works of fiction, The Story of My Teeth and Faces in the Crowd, and her essay collection Sidewalks, Tell Me How It Ends is an experimental foray, this time into what in other hands mind be a straightforward piece of journalism. Because she was so close to the stories of these children, speaking directly to them, she captured their voices and their experience with more empathy than any fact or statistic.” —THE Magazine
“This book shoves aside over-intellectualization of border and immigration policy and reminds us of the damn hard and harrowing realities of the children who come into the US from Central America and Mexico every day, what they faced in the cities they left and what they face when they get here. Luiselli is a sharp, searing writer. She packs a lot of power. Be prepared to cry. Read it, read it, read it and then share it.” —Texas Book Festival
“In this world of unending crisis, Luiselli’s book is an important testament to the people and children buried within the numbers and histories and politics, and through her compassionate observations she reminds us of their unassailable humanity.” —Drunken Boat
“Using the essay form to interrogate the question of citizenship, Luiselli’s 'Tell Me How It Ends' reminds us that as long as we’re a nation who defines itself by saying who doesn’t belong, we’ll ask the more complicated question of who does.” —Critical Mass
“Books like Tell Me How It Ends are like dew on a spiderweb, revealing the often forgotten and sometimes ignored threads of humanity that connect us all.” —Josh Cook, Porter Square Books
“In the warrens of New York City’s federal immigration court, an adolescent boy from Honduras confronts a thoroughly confused immigration bureaucracy with the help of his translator, who is the author of this book. He is just one of thousands of immigrant children longing for permanence in this country, but we get to see him up close. With Valeria Luiselli as our guide, we navigate the corridors of a system that tries and fails to reconcile America’s long-standing welcome of the poor, the terrorized, and the adventurous with its current fear and mistrust of immigrants. In the frightening year of 2017 this is a most necessary book, and a unique one, from a writer whose clear-eyed intelligence and marvelous literary imagination make every one of her narratives a compelling read.” —Alma Guillermoprieto
“Compelling and urgent, Tell Me How It Ends gives a face and a name to the hundreds of thousands who have committed the innocent crime of geography: being born in a certain time and place. The bureaucratic labyrinth of immigration, the dangers of searching for a better life, all of this and more is contained in this brief and profound work. Tell Me How It Ends is not just relevant, it’s essential.” —Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore
“In the hours Valeria Luiselli spends at the immigration courts in NYC, her duty is to listen to children tell her stories about their scars and how they got them. Like a morbid game show, the children’s answers determine their fate. The grand prize? Permanent citizenship, if all goes well. The alternative? Deportation. Bonus: due to the volume of cases, the standard intake form forgives only those who have the most gruesome traumas, wounds that they can show—and of course, the language to speak about them. Part treatise, part memoir, part call-to-action, Tell Me How It Ends inspires not through a stiff stance of authority, but with the curiosity and humility Luiselli has long since established. It may not cure your panic, but it sure as hell won’t feed it.” —Annalia Luna, Brazos Bookstore
“Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends is an important reminder that words matter. The questions we ask of others are built upon a foundation of assumptions about the past and expectations for the future. Appealing to the language of the United States’ fraught immigration policy, Luiselli exposes the cracks in this foundation. Herself an immigrant, she highlights the human cost of its brokenness, as well as the hope that it (rather than walls) might be rebuilt.” —Brad Johnson, Diesel Bookstore
“With gifted prose and a compassionate but penetrating gaze, Luiselli personalizes the ongoing plight of Latin American child migrants in the United States. Her own immersion as a translator informs a trenchant first-hand account of the labyrinthine legal processes and inevitable bureaucratic indifference faced by undocumented youth. Humane yet often horrifying, Tell Me How It Ends offers a compelling, intimate look at a continuing crisis—and its ongoing cost in an age of increasing urgency.” —Jeremy Garber, Powell’s Books
“This is a timely take on one of the most pressing humanitarian crises of the 21st century. Without a doubt the most essential read of the year, this slight book can do some real good in the world. Luiselli is a badass.” —Brazos Bookstore, “Buyer’s Corner: Best of 2017 So Far”
“[Valeria’s] account of time spent helping refugees interpret the bureaucratic labyrinth of the American immigration system is eye-opening and life-altering.” —Island Books
“Valeria Luiselli’s extended essay on her volunteer work translating for child immigrants confronts with compassion and honesty the problem of the North American refugee crisis. It’s a rare thing: a book everyone should read.” —Stephen Sparks, Point Reyes Books
“‘Tell me how it ends,’ the young daughter says to the mother. Valeria Luiselli uses this query, said of the heartbreaking, infuriating situation involving ‘undocumented’ Central American children and the legal system they encounter here that she movingly chronicles in this powerful essay. She helps call to question where we as people, as a people, are with innocent children, who or what is ‘alien,’ even the business of who is American, given that she casts this as a connective scenario, with what happens in Tegucigalpa being related to what happens in Hempstead, New York. In this we are all Americans, finally. Imagine being put into court systems without the language to speak, much less the adult language of law. And while this essay is brilliant for exactly what it depicts, it helps open larger questions, which we’re ever more on the precipice of now, of where all of this will go, how all of this might end. Is this a story, or is this beyond a story? Valeria Luiselli is one of those brave and eloquent enough to help us see.” —Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
“Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends helped me see the crisis undocumented immigrants, especially children coming from Mexico and Central America, are facing in our country in much the same way Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow helped me see how slavery’s legacy is being perpetuated in the mass incarceration of black Americans. As someone who has read every one of Luiselli’s books, I expected her writing here to be erudite and elegant, and it is, of course it is, but what I did not expect was for her writing to be this immediate and this personal. I did not expect to be hit this hard emotionally, to feel every fear and every longing in the deepest part of who I am. I can’t remember the last time I read something and had this kind of physical reaction. I felt this book in the tug behind my eyes, in these hands shaking, in this heart beating too quickly. This is a work I will share with everyone I know. This is something every American needs to face, and to feel.” —Kenneth Coble, King’s Books
“In an essay as bracing as it is searing, the incomparable Valeria Luiselli explores the 2014 immigration crisis. Luiselli writes with a clarity that underscores the nightmarish conditions and nonsensical bureaucracy undocumented children face on their passage to America and toward U.S. citizenship. Tell Me How It Ends evokes empathy as it educates. It is a vital contribution to the body of post-Trump work being published in early 2017.” —Katharine Solheim, Unabridged Books
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Is the first of the 40 questions asked to child migrants who are caught at the border as they are escaping their Central American homes.
In this book, Valeria Luiselli speaks about her experiences as a translator for Central American child migrants as each must be vetted by Citizen and Immigration Services, if they wish to remain in the US. However, as simple as these 40 questions may be, answering them does not guarantee their stay in the country, nor do some of these questions have simple answers.
The things most of these children endure make me cringe. However, I am relieved their voices are being heard, now, more then ever thanks to writers like Luiselli.
Another favorite, I couldn't put it down.
An important and insightful read.
Hope y'all read this.