Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border” as Want to Read:
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  9,172 ratings  ·  1,505 reviews
For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under ...more
Paperback
Published February 6th 2018 by Riverhead
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Line Becomes a River, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Dan In an interview with the Francisco Cantu, mentions vaguely about Jose's and his family:

"Audience Member: I don’t feel I can call you Paco because I…more
In an interview with the Francisco Cantu, mentions vaguely about Jose's and his family:

"Audience Member: I don’t feel I can call you Paco because I don’t know you, but I really would like to know, having read your book, whether you’re still in touch with José’s family, or have you seen José himself?

Lauren Markham: I also want to know that.

Francisco Cantú: I can tell you that José is alive. I can tell you that I’m in touch with him, but it makes him unsafe to tell you any more than that. He is living a very precarious life. It doesn’t matter on which side of the border he is; that life is very precarious. Seeing José’s story unfold and becoming close with his family and his boys, who had never crossed the border, seeing all the ways that the border was brought to them, shows us how these borders work. It’s really hard to understand that the kinds of fear that undocumented people are living with is the kind of fear that we would imagine someone in a faraway war-torn country living with. I know undocumented people who are afraid to leave their homes, I know undocumented people who literally think a helicopter is going to land in their yard. They think that’s legitimately in the realm of possibilities. The helicopter will land in their yard and take their kids away."

Source: https://www.guernicamag.com/francisco...(less)
Melissa Hi Steve,

According to a Vox interview, Cantu left the BP when he became a Fulbright Fellow. He went to the Netherlands to study rejected asylum…more
Hi Steve,

According to a Vox interview, Cantu left the BP when he became a Fulbright Fellow. He went to the Netherlands to study rejected asylum seekers who decided to stay after their deportation orders.(less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  9,172 ratings  ·  1,505 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border
Will Byrnes
“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the president sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” Kelly said. “The difference between (690,000) and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up.”
Immigration experts cite various reasons why people eligible for DACA’s protections do not apply. These include lack of knowledge about the program, a
...more
Maureen
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
*3.5 STARS*

Francisco Cantú grew up on the US / Mexican border where his mother, ( a second generation Mexican - American ) was a park ranger. Francisco loved the landscape - the national parks and desert landscapes, and living in close proximity to the border ignited a curiosity in him to learn more about border control. He decided to pursue a degree in border relations, and although his studies provided some insight into the problems, he needed to see how things worked in the real world, and
...more
Dianne
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2018
I really enjoyed this book and don’t understand at all the venom being directed at the author, a former U.S. Border Patrol Agent. Looking at some of the reviews of this book, it’s pretty clear the most vitriolic reviewers never read the book at all or read only a portion of it. I think Cantu presents a pretty balanced and fair view of U.S. and Mexico border issues and the impact policy has on lives on both sides of the border.

Cantu earned a degree in International Relations and learned a lot
...more
Nat K
"I dream in the night that I am grinding my teeth out, spitting the crumbled pieces into my palms and holding them in my cupped hands, searching for someone to show them to, someone who can see what is happening."

This book is INTENSE.

I cannot imagine being a border patrol officer anywhere, let alone an area with so much historical significance and fraught with as much difficulty as the U.S/Mexico border.

I think it would be soul destroying. I believe that most people become officers with the best
...more
Trish
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trish by: Diane
This book seems too small for all it accomplishes. The quiet watchfulness and introspection of the Prologue tamps down opinion before it develops. We are here to listen, to understand. It is such a quiet read, immediately alert to the tension inherent in a grandson of immigrants policing the border.

This is a beautiful book, a beautiful physical object. Riverhead Books formatted the inside to be a kind of art, using gray pages to separate the sections and lines to guide our eye, delineate our
...more
Montzalee Wittmann
The Line Becomes A River (Hardcover) by Francisco Cantú is a very emotional book. I was angry, depressed, sad, but I don't think I was happy once in the book. The guy of the story, his mother was a ranger and he grew up loving the outdoors and near the border. He has Mexican heritage. Interested in the politics of the border, he takes classes in college and gets a degree but still he wants to be up close and know more. He becomes a border guard and describes the training and what it was like. He ...more
HBalikov
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir by Francisco Cantú covers his time in the U.S. Border Patrol and his thoughts, dreams and associations to that work. It brings in family, friends, co-workers and considerations of how he approached his work. I wondered for a long time whether he would change the job or whether the job would change him. Now I know.

Cantú’s Mexican heritage has a significant impact on his work as an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, working in the deserts of Arizona, New
...more
Meike
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2017-read, mexico
Winner of the Whiting Award for Nonfiction 2017
"When I was in school, I spent all this time studying international relations, immigration, border security. I was always reading about policy and economics, looking at all these complex academic ways of addressing this big unsolvable problem. When I made the decision to apply for this job, I had the idea that I'd see things in the patrol that would somehow unlock the border for me, you know? I thought I'd come up with all sorts of answers. And then
...more
Rebecca
Francisco Cantú was a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona and Texas for four years. Agents tracked illegals using the same skills with which hunters stalk their prey. Once captured, the would-be immigrants were detained, processed and deported. Days in the field were full of smuggled drugs, cached belongings and corpses of those who’d tried to cross in inhospitable conditions. Even when Cantú was transferred to a desk job, he couldn’t escape news of Mexican drug cartels and ritual mutilation of ...more
Canadian
Slim and beautifully written, The Line Becomes a River is a powerful, deeply humane piece of nonfiction about the lives of Border Patrol agents and desperate migrants on the frontier between the U.S. and Mexico. This is a hybrid work: part memoir, part meditation, part expository piece. Richly allusive, it refers to the works of many writers on immigration, history, politics, and psychology. Aspects of Mexico’s geography—its flora and fauna, its culture and history, its wars of independence ...more
Wendy Trevino
This is a book for the #bluelivesmatter & #alllivesmatter crowd. I hate that crowd.

from an interview in the San Antonio Express News:

"Q. How does the image of the Border Patrol square with your experience?

[Cantu]: Agents have been represented as callous, and they have come to expect that. But some of the people I worked with were some of the most intelligent, humane people I’ve ever met. It’s the largest law-enforcement force in the country, 18,000 agents. It’s bigger than the FBI and the
...more
Paltia
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A young man arrives at a crossroads. It is a time of questioning. Where to turn which way to go to find the crucial missing pieces of knowledge? He wants to understand the border. Against the advice of his mother he joins the border patrol. She worries what this will do to him and what he might become. He protests, seeing himself as a person who speaks Spanish and can possibly offer help. He needs to know. With that, this naturally inspired man journeys on in his new career. Troubled by ...more
Chrissie
First of all, in giving the book three stars, I am stating that I like it, that I am glad to have read it. There are aspects I do not like, and thus have not given it more.

The book consists of a prologue, three parts and an epilogue. The prologue depicts an experience the author shared with his mother.

The first two parts relate Cantú's experiences employed at the United States Border Patrol, first as a field agent and then later as an intelligence officer. Cantú is a third-generation
...more
Taryn
I was not aware of the controversy surrounding this book and its author when I chose to read it. Had I known how hurtful some would find this book, I wouldn't have prioritized it, and I definitely would have sought out a library copy instead of paying for one. I take the protesters' point that people who are concerned about the state of the U.S./Mexico border should seek out the voices of immigrants who have experienced it firsthand very much to heart, and such a book is next up on my reading ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this for a book club meeting that I had to miss because of a cold, and I'm sorry I missed what should have been an interesting discussion. The Line Becomes a River portrays the realities of the border, and the trouble of separating the border patrol from the end results. The dehumanization of migrants and refugees is real, and I appreciate the inside look from multiple perspectives that Cantu is able to find.
Oki
Jan 14, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I don't find the ethics of this book interesting, nuanced, complex, or human. What's being posed here, is the worst that literature has to offer, and is a variation of a genre already used by the cultural propagandists of the so-called "free world." It's a cop-loving dead end of a universe, made by collaborating with the forces of death that this book pretends to mourn, it is selfish and degrading. This book tries to humanize hunting down other people.
Claire Reads Books
3.5 There’s a lot to admire here in the way Francisco Cantú writes about the US/Mexico border, but his own place within the story (his Mexican heritage, his motivations for joining the Border Patrol, and his regrets about implicating himself in a deeply flawed system) remained hazy for me. This is a book of loosely-structured vignettes, but I wish it had had a clearer framework—it reads like a promising first work that could be fleshed out into a more substantial, probing book. ...more
Kelly
An extremely frustrating read about Cantu's time as a border patrol agent and then his desperate desire to be redeemed because he deigns to accept Mexicans attempting to cross the border as human when he makes a friend of one after he leaves his job. Cantu is Mexican-American, so the reviews suggesting it's a white guy's story are incorrect -- the Mexican-American aspect is precisely why I picked this up, and it's precisely why I'm so irritated that there's literally no explanation for why Cantu ...more
Joanne
From up here in Canada, so far away from the southern border of the USA, it is really hard to understand the visceral reaction this book has engendered. It is quite a feat for a book to be hated on all sides of an argument; most of the hatred I've read about seems to stem from the viewpoints of the haters more than any objection to the book itself. I felt that Cantu was balanced in his approach to the story. The writing was beautiful and the characters were real and meaningful. Of course there ...more
Neil
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, 5-stars
"Some politicians in the United States think that if a mother or father is deported, this will cause the entire family to move back to Mexico. But in fact, the mothers and fathers with the best family values will want their family to stay in the U.S., they will cross the border again and again to be with them. So you see, these same people, the ones with the most dedication to their family, they begin to build up a record of deportation, they have more and more problems with the government, and ...more
Jaclyn Crupi
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is so good! Cantú was a US border control agent for four years and ‘The Line Becomes a River’ is a true reckoning of what he witnessed, did and was implicit in. It’s heartbreaking and so well written!
‘I don’t know if the border is a place for me to understand myself, but I know there’s something here I can’t look away from. Maybe it’s the desert, maybe it’s the closeness of life and death, maybe it’s the tension between the two cultures we carry inside us.’
‘The part of you that is
...more
Dean
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Francisco Cantu descending from Mexican immigrants and having worked for long years as a border patrol officer has written a mesmerizing and very emotional account of his confrontation/trauma of what it means to live the reality of the Mexican/American frontiers!!

I appreciated and valued it so much to hear the voice of an insider..
Because you know what, politicians they like to talk and talk of things without having seeing and lived the truth of the real situation at all!!

And I was so motivated
...more
Diane Yannick
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In rating this book, I have ignored a few narrative flow problems that occasionally annoyed me. (You can tell the author is a poet who doesn’t want to be constrained by sequential, focused narrative arcs.) I gave it this rating because this is an important point of view to hear in the whole immigration debate. People have boycotted some of Cantu’s book signings because to them he represents the evils of police brutality. I question whether these protestors have read the entire book.

Cantu, who
...more
Dan
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What does a college degree in international relations prepare you for? For Francisco Cantú, it was four years in the U. S. Border Patrol—described by his own mother as ”a paramilitary police force” and ”a system, an institution with little regard for people”— on the southwest American border. Coming from a Mexican-American family with deep roots in the southwest and family ties in both the U.S. and Mexico, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border Cantú portrays himself as on a search ...more
Aura
I missed the NPR interview with the author but I found this book recommendation at my local library as an award winning book ... and award winning it should be. This book is an important book and everyone should read it.
Mr. Cantu is a second generation Mexican. Actually, he is American ... honestly I am tired of all these labels for people born here who still have to explain their heritage. Put that aside, this man whose family long ago came from Mexico becomes a border agent. That in itself is
...more
Roman Clodia
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So you see, there is nothing that can keep me from crossing. My boys are not dogs to be abandoned in the street. I will walk through the desert for five days, eight days, ten days, whatever it takes to be with them. I'll eat grass, I'll eat cactus, I'll drink filthy cattle water, I'll drink nothing at all. I'll run and hide from la migra, I'll pay the mafias whatever I have to. They can take my money, they can rob my family, they can lock me away, but I will keep coming back. I will keep
...more
Stephen
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
thanks to the publishers and netgalley for a free copy in return for an open and honest review

found this book very interesting in light of current developments in american politics and history. the author expresses himself as the dehumanisation of the whole process of deportation and border patrol but at same lights gives some insight into mexican history too. The first part of the book took awhile to get going for me but the latter part of the book to me was more personal and humble.
Yesenia Juarez
It’s unfair to give this a rating, the story is important and I didn’t give it a fair chance. I really didn’t like the authors narration it was so hard for me to keep up with his slow pace, he dragged out sentences horribly it kind of sounded like he was speaking as he was writing the book itself. I may give it a try again if I get ahold of a printed copy.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
If you are an American citizen, especially if you came to this country via birth to two American citizens, and especially if you live in a state that is removed from the Mexican-American border, it may be easy for you to contemplate those who are coming to America via illegal means as characterized by our current president during his election campaign: "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have ...more
Barbara
Exquisitely written. Cantú worked for 4 years as a Border Patrol agent, after earning a degree in international studies focused on the border, he decided he wanted to see it for himself. Cantú is fluent in Spanish, and though his ancestry is only one-quarter Mexican, he has a deep understanding of the culture, and knows the history of his Mexican ancestors. His Mexican American mother had worked as a US Ranger in a national park in the Southwest because she wanted to be close to nature. She ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: The Line Becomes a River / Francisco Cantú - 4**** 1 14 Jul 01, 2019 05:55AM  
Monroe Public Lib...: The dividing line 1 4 Jun 19, 2019 10:29AM  
UCAS English 11 R...: January Book 1 2 Jan 31, 2019 09:53AM  
Play Book Tag: The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu -4 stars 8 33 Feb 22, 2018 12:14PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • There There
  • The Nickel Boys
  • American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment
  • Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America
  • The Library Book
  • Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen
  • Washington Black
  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
  • Lost Children Archive
  • Heavy: An American Memoir
  • Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth
  • Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
  • Red at the Bone
  • Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive
  • The House of Broken Angels
  • The Yellow House
  • Disappearing Earth
  • The Other Americans
See similar books…
130 followers
Francisco Cantú served as an agent for the United States Border Patrol in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas from 2008 to 2012. A former Fulbright fellow, he is the recipient of a 2017 Whiting Award. His essays and translations have been featured on This American Life and in Best American Essays, Harper’s, Guernica, Orion, n+1 and Ploughshares. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
“You spent nearly four years on the border, she said. You weren’t just observing a reality, you were participating in it. You can’t exist within a system for that long without being implicated, without absorbing its poison. And let me tell you, it isn’t something that’s just going to slowly go away. It’s part of who you’ve become. So what will you do? All you can do is try to find a place to hold it, a way to not lose some purpose for it all.” 10 likes
“As I swam toward a bend in the canyon, the river became increasingly shallow. In a patch of sunlight, two longnose gars, relics of the Paleozoic era, hovered in the silted waters. I stood to walk along the adjacent shorelines, crossing the river time and again as each bank came to an end, until finally, for one brief moment, I forgot in which country I stood. All around me the landscape trembled and breathed as one.” 8 likes
More quotes…