Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions

Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli

Structured around the forty questions Luiselli translates and asks undocumented Latin-American children facing deportation, Tell Me How It Ends (an expansion of her 2016 Freeman’s essay of the same name) humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction of the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants with the reality of racism and fear both here and back home.

Author: Valeria Luiselli

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Rating: 5/5

“I hear words, spoken in the mouths of children, threaded in complex narratives. They are delivered with hesitance, sometimes distrust, always with fear. I have to transform them into written words, succinct sentences, and barren terms. The children’s stories are always shuffled, stuttered, always shattered beyond the repair of a narrative order. The problem with trying to tell their story is that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end.”

Tell Me How It Ends is a short, concise, but hard-hitting work of literary nonfiction. It made me think about an issue that I haven’t let myself think about to deeply, and it humanized it more than numbers and statistics ever could. This will only take you a few hours to read. Do it.

“Rapes: eighty percent of the women and girls who cross Mexico to get to the U.S. border are raped on the way. The situation is so common that most of them take contraceptive precautions as they begin the journey north.”

Valeria Luiselli began volunteering as an interpreter for Latin-American children facing deportation, helping the nonprofit organizations who aid these children understand their stories in an effort to put together a legal defense to help them stay. These organizations have put together a 40-question intake form that attempts to gather the most useful information. It does allow them to begin to help as quickly as possible, but it’s not perfect; with only a few weeks to find these children lawyers and put together a viable defense, most of the details from these children’s experiences can’t get captured on a form.

“They’ve fled their towns and cities; they’ve walked and swum and hidden and run and mounted freight trains and trucks. They’ve turned themselves in to Border Patrol officers. They’ve come all this way looking for—for what, exactly? The questionnaire doesn’t make these other inquiries. But it does ask for precise details: ‘When did you enter the United States?'”

Luiselli is Mexican, and she has by now interpreted for many, many children who lived and fought through literal hell to get to the United States. She has heard these children’s stories, and she feels the details deeply. She is in a unique position to write this book. It’s riveting, profound, and insightful.

“No one suggests that the causes are deeply embedded in our shared hemispheric history and are therefore not some distant problem in a foreign country that no one can locate on a map, but in fact a trans national problem that includes the United States—not as a distant observer or passive victim that must now deal with thousands of unwanted children arriving at the southern border, but rather as an active historical participant in the circumstances that generated that problem….There is little said, for example, of arms being trafficked from the United States into Mexico or Central America, legally or not; little mention of the fact that the consumption of drugs in the United States is what fundamentally fuels drug trafficking in the continent.”

I have no critique of this book. Thank you, Valeria Luiselli, for opening my eyes and my heart a little bit wider.

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