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Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America's Stolen Land

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,645 ratings  ·  259 reviews
An electrifying debut memoir of a son of working-class Mexican immigrants who fled a life of labor in fruit-packing plants to run in a Native American marathon from Canada to Guatemala, challenging himself to reimagine North America and his place in it.
Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published March 3rd 2020 by Catapult
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tonalli carlos It is a very beautiful memoir and I would definitely recommend it :)
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Will Byrnes
I recognize the ways in which running is transforming me. Through it, I am inflicting violence on myself and my body, submerging myself in pain like I did when I was working in the warehouse alongside my mother, so that I may control the turmoil within me. But unlike any other labor, running relieves me of the weight that I should become better than my parents, my people.
Noé Alvarez was at the beginning of his adult life, but he had seen a few things. Growing up near Yakima, WA, at 17, he to
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
The below review originally appeared on Open Letters Review.

When Noé Álvarez, crossing the Mexican border with an American passport, provided a Latino border guard with his reasoning for entering the country not as the typical business or pleasure, but instead, to run through the country on his way to Central America, he was met with a halting question: “But aren’t you running the wrong way?”

Though Central America was indeed the destination, it was hardly the start. In his memoir, Spirit Run: A
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Noé Álvarez, a Mexican-American with Purépecha ancestry, participated in a 6,000-mile ultramarathon relay through North America in 2004 that sought to bring awareness and healing to indigenous peoples from Canada to Guatemala. The author also surrounds the run with more about his life - from his childhood in Yakima, Washington with parents who worked in backbreaking agricultural jobs, to flailing as a first-generation college student, to the places he created for himself after this journey. He f ...more
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Noé Álvarez is the son of working-class, immigrant parents and he wants desperately to get out of Yakima, Washington. After an initial try at college, he signs up for the Peace and Dignity Journeys-- a run from Alaska to South America celebrating indigenous peoples. Along the way, he connects to the land and the people in ways he never expected. He finds a sense of peace within himself and a new appreciation for both where he's from and where he wants to go.
Being from the Yakima Valley myself,
I liked where this book led me - to the dictionary, to maps, to YouTube, to gather more info - but I never completely understood the journey Alvarez is on. The epic marathon he is running is part of the Peace and Dignity Journeys. This is “a non-competitive race to renew cultural connections across North America.”

Alvarez definitely celebrates the landscape and gives an inkling of the various cultures he encounters, but he never delves deep. It seems the run is plagued by in-fighting and a lack
Chris LaTray
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
The world needs more books like SPIRIT RUN, written by people who have actually lived the experiences of marginalized communities, rather than just parachuted in, done a few interviews, and then written about them. Noé Álvarez speaks with an eloquent and much-needed voice for the working class, for the struggles experienced by people living—not just outside of, but ostracized by—the mainstream as part of a community that is at the same time a key element of the infrastructure the entire bloody f ...more
The child of immigrants, Álvarez grew up southeast of Seattle in Yakima Valley. His parents endured laboring in the apple packing plants that distribute our famous Washington apples to the nation, and he joined them for a time and witnessed the harsh conditions firsthand. This part of the narrative was especially eye-opening for me. Renewed my resolve to always give thanks for the food I eat, and do more towards GOOD working conditions for folks who toil a lot harder for their livelihood than I ...more
Rebecca Kiefer
The first half of this book read like the overwritten product of an MFA program. The second half read as if the author thought maxim was “tell, don’t show, and then tell some more.” This ranged from the frustrating (The group struggles to adhere to local customs as they travel - I want to learn more about those customs and how the differences are resolved!) to outright bizarre (One of the organizers was withholding food and water to the point it reached the authorities, and then you were bullied ...more
Diane S ☔
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nfr-2020
Thoughts soon.
Katherine Ginensky
I feel bad about this but I just wanted so much more detail!
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent memoir that combines vivid imagery and moving descriptions of the writer's experiences as a first generation American. He tells the story of his family in a powerful way that transports us to a different reality and helps us understand the modern immigration story. He also takes us on a journey throughout the Americas and weaves the lives of other runners into the story. Within the first few pages I was touched and tearing up from the power of real people's stories. There we ...more
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book was interesting to a point. Eye-opening in regards to the apple plant, the workers, the run itself, and many of the people within his tale. But at some point, it ceased to feel like a narrative, and started feeling more like a series of quick journal entries, which didn't have the draw or the emotional impact (for me) as the first part did. The marathon *is* something new to me, so there's that - though in many ways, it sounds ripe for abuse, of the kind Noe experienced, and other kinds ...more
Never Without a Book
3.5 stars super quick read. Full RTC .
Noé grew up in Yakima, Washington, alongside his mother who worked in an apple-packing plant. As the son of two Mexican immigrants, he knew he was lucky to receive a scholarship to attend college, but a year into his program he is having a hard time fitting in and figuring out what it is he wants to make of himself as a first-generation Mexican American. This is a theme that will carry throughout the book, with no definitive ending, but along the way, Alvarez does a great job highlighting why th ...more
Álvarez and his family had their dreams come true when he received a full ride to college, a way out of the endless labor of working at an apple factory in Yakima. While at school, he learns of the Peace and Dignity Journey, a run held every four years from Alaska to the southern end of Mexico, stretching thousands of miles. This is a program aids in helping Indigenous people from all nations reconnect to their lands, spiritually and emotionally. To Noé, this was an opportunity worth dropping ou ...more
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: amv
I truly appreciate the journey and purpose of the author’s memoir. Ultimately, it left me wanting more, which means I’ll be doing more research into the topics he addresses and the cultures he mentions. It feels a bit unfinished, which can be the pitfall of memoir. Worth reading! 4 stars
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book. I'm from Yakima and have visited many of the places the author passes through. Parts, mostly the parts about logistics of the run or descriptions of the natural areas, are ok. More parts are overly dramatic.

"My back breaks as I bend over the vicious fruit line, which cuts menacingly across the warehouse floor, just as I am cut off from the land and my people." That's not an exact quote but is close to how the author writes.

"I bring a dictionary, convincing myself th
Micaela Gerhardt
Another quarantine purchase. Loved the first third of the book. Opened my eyes to immigrant labor and orchard production in Yakima, WA, a city three hours from Spokane. The language in the first half was also musical. The storytelling had good pacing. But when the actual run began, I felt completely boxed out of the story. I had trouble keeping track of characters because I hardly knew them. I couldn't track Noe's interior journey--only his exterior one. The chapters were extremely short, with t ...more
Mar 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spirit Run, a debut memoir by a gifted storyteller, is simultaneously harrowing and heartening. It is a narrative of pushing a body beyond the breaking point with fluid-filled knees the size of melons, knees that respond to their plight with knives of pain. It's a story of jogging loose new insights and old memories with each footfall. It exudes a strong sense of place, both the landscape to which he is anchored by childhood experience and those through which he passes on his mega-marathon of d ...more
Spirit Run // by Noe Alvarez

This is a title that I have been looking forward to for a while but am now struggling to organize my thoughts about. The blurb had me excited about learning about immigration and the First Nations/Native American movement from a new angle, connecting with the land through running. The beginning of the book was very much like I expected: We learn about his experiences in the work force and about his family with a lot of focus on his parents. I learned a lot about the i
Noé Álvarez’s Spirit Run is a brief recounting if his marathon with other Indigenous runners in the Peace and Dignity Journeys, a run to pull together communities, to connect with the land, and to grow and heal as individuals while setting feet to the ground from Alaska to Panama. Set against the background of a childhood spent with his undocumented parents in Washington state in a community of labourers, and his eventual scholarship and entry into the hostile world of post-secondary education, ...more
Powerful memoir. It’s more about Alvarez’ upbringing and struggles, than about the run itself; a self-discovery in progress. His story is five star story, but writing needs some work and editing.

I understand where Alvarez is coming from, as I’ve been there. The most heartbreaking thought I am able to relate to is Alvarez’s guilt and shame: “For longer than I can remember I was ashamed of who I was.” After experiencing trauma that is impossible to shake off, the sense of the normal is marred by a
May 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
What a moving memoir. Not perfectly written, but that's not the point. I'm so glad Alvarez shared his story with us, and I hope his poor knees have healed. ...more
Rebecca H.
In Spirit Run, Noé Álvarez describes his childhood as the son of Mexican immigrants, growing up in Yakima, Washington, watching his parents worn down by hard labor. He writes about being a first generation college student and the pressures of wanting to succeed to help his family while trying to adapt to an entirely new world. Eventually, he decides to drop out of college and join the Peace and Dignity Journey, an annual marathon from Canada to Guatemala with the aim of bringing healing to indig ...more
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only wish this had been a little longer--the ending felt a bit abrupt. But overall it was a really interesting look at a fascinating event that I knew nothing about, beautifully woven together with stories of Alvarez's childhood, the stories of his Mexican immigrant parents, and his own grappling with his identity and place in the world.

One thing I loved about this was the messy ways Alvarez describes his experiences on the run. For several months, he ran from Canada to Mexico with a group of
Emily Goenner
I wanted so much more from this memoir. I felt like it couldn't decide if it was a coming of age tale, a nature book, or a study in conflict and first-people's culture. Also, it felt like I was supposed to know and care about the circle of characters around Noe on the trail, but I never felt close to them. The entire memoir felt a little scattershot and kept me at an arm's distance and I struggled to finish it. Disappointing. ...more
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This memoir is about the authors life, and also what it is like being the son of working class Mexican immigrants, in a town in Washington state, and of his search to find out who he really is and what he stands for in this world.
His parents have had a hard life in the orchards and apple packing plants, that took everything out of them. I think a bit differently now when I bite into an apple that was so easy to acquire, knowing what it is like for the many workers in those packing plants. The a
Jesus Castaneda
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a well written memoir which offers readers with the inner thoughts, feelings, emotions and rationalizations from of the perspective of a son of immigrants in a farm working/fruit packing working class community.

As the reader quickly progresses though the book, the reader is transported on the shoulder of the author as he grapples with complex emotions and thoughts in understanding not only his place in the world, but understanding his place in the world though the people and landsca
Sonal Singhal
I wasn't familiar with the PDJ run, which is a run designed to celebrate and honor Indigenous communities. The run goes from Alaska to Panama. I particularly liked the sections of this memoir that focused on how the run felt, the changes in the landscape, and the interactions with the local communities supporting the runners. The book was hard to follow though because the author introduces a large cast of runners and most of them remain fairly loosely sketched out. ...more
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The electrifying debut memoir of a son of working-class Mexican immigrants who fled a life of labor in fruit-packing plants to run in a Native American marathon from Canada to Guatemala, challenging himself to reimagine North America and his place in it.
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