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The far away brothers : two young migrants and the making of an American life

1st ed.
Physical Description:
xvi, 298 pages ; 25 cm
Prologue : The missing -- The flood -- The churn -- The walls -- The courthouse -- The detained -- The arrest -- The girls -- The failed -- The halt -- The long walk -- The land -- Afterword.
Reading Level:
980 L Lexile
"The deeply reported story of identical twin brothers who escape El Salvador's violence to build new lives in California--fighting to survive, to stay, and to belong. Growing up in rural El Salvador in the wake of the civil war, Ernesto Flores had always had a fascination with the United States, the faraway land of skyscrapers and Nikes, while his identical twin, Raul, never felt that northbound tug. But when Ernesto ends up on the wrong side of the region's brutal gangs he is forced to flee the country, and Raul, because he looks just like his brother, follows close behind--away from one danger and toward the great American unknown. In this urgent chronicle of contemporary immigration, journalist Lauren Markham follows the seventeen-year-old Flores twins as they make their harrowing journey across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of immigration authorities, and from there to their estranged older brother's custody in Oakland, CA. Soon these unaccompanied minors are navigating a new school in a new language, working to pay down their mounting coyote debt, and facing their day in immigration court, while also encountering the triumphs and pitfalls of life as American teenagers--girls, grades, Facebook--with only each other for support. With intimate access and breathtaking range, Markham offers a coming of age tale that is also a nuanced portrait of Central America's child exodus, an investigation of U.S. immigration policy, and an unforgettable testament to the migrant experience."--Provided by publisher.


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Book 305.868 MAR 1 1
Book 305.868 MAR 1 1
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The deeply reported story of identical twin brothers who escape El Salvador's violence to build new lives in California--fighting to survive, to stay, and to belong.

"Impeccably timed, intimately reported, and beautifully expressed."-- The New York Times


Growing up in rural El Salvador in the wake of the civil war, the United States was a distant fantasy to identical twins Ernesto and Raul Flores--until, at age seventeen, a deadly threat from the region's brutal gangs forces them to flee the only home they've ever known. In this urgent chronicle of contemporary immigration, journalist Lauren Markham follows the Flores twins as they make their way across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of immigration authorities, and from there to their estranged older brother in Oakland, CA. Soon these unaccompanied minors are navigating school in a new language, working to pay down their mounting coyote debt, and facing their day in immigration court, while also encountering the triumphs and pitfalls of teenage life with only each other for support. With intimate access and breathtaking range, Markham offers an unforgettable testament to the migrant experience.


"[This] beautifully written book . . . can be read as a supplement to the current news, a chronicle of the problems that Central Americans are fleeing and the horrors they suffer in flight. But it transcends the crisis. Markham's deep, frank reporting is also useful in thinking ahead to the challenges of assimilation, for the struggling twins and many others like them. . . . Her reporting is intimate and detailed, and her tone is a special pleasure. Trustworthy, calm, decent, it offers refuge from a world consumed by Twitter screeds and cable news demagogues. . . . A generous book for an ungenerous age." --Jason DeParle, The New York Review of Books

"You should read The Far Away Brothers . We all should." --NPR

"This is the sort of news that is the opposite of fake. . . . Markham is our knowing, compassionate ally, our guide in sorting out, up close, how our new national immigration policy is playing out from a human perspective. . . . An important book." -- The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Author Notes

Lauren Markham is a writer based in Berkeley, California. Her work has appeared in VQR, VICE, Orion, Pacific Standard, Guernica, The New, on This American Life, and elsewhere. Lauren earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been awarded Fellowships from the Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, the 11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship, the Mesa Refuge, and the Rotary Foundation. For the past decade, she has worked in the fields of refugee resettlement and immigrant education.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

While working to assist young immigrants at an Oakland, Calif., school district, writer Markham encountered Raúl and Ernesto Flores from El Salvador, teenage twin brothers who, like many others in recent years, fled gang violence in Central America and came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. For the Flores brothers, home was La Colonia, an idyllic village until it was overrun by gangsters-among them the boys' uncle, whose threats against Ernesto precipitated the twins' emigration. Markham outlines the twins' perilous journey to the U.S.: a long trek through the desert and a traumatizing violent incident. Once here, they had to navigate a labyrithine path to citizenship, beset by language barriers, difficulty securing legal counsel, and lack of funds, to say nothing of the emotional issues that caused the twins to fall into patterns of drinking and self-harm. In addition to the boys, Markham introduces the reader to their older brother Wilber, who acts as the boys' guardian despite being only 24, and their sister Maricela, left behind in La Colonia to deal with an unplanned pregnancy and the family's debt. Markham also visits a Mexican migrant shelter, the border wall in southern Texas, and an immigration courthouse to give further context. This is a timely and thought-provoking exploration of a international quagmire. Markham provides a sensitive and eye-opening take on what's at stake for young immigrants with nowhere else to go. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Twins Ernesto and Raúl Flores grew up on their family's farm in El Salvador in an era when gang violence spread across the country. To escape threats, Ernesto and Raúl took out loans to pay a guide to take them north across the U.S.-Mexico border. The boys were part of a wave of unaccompanied minors escaping violence in their home countries. After a traumatic crossing, the twins moved to Oakland, California, to live with their older brother, Wilber. They worked to earn money to pay down their debts while attending high school, learning English, and attempting to gain legal residency in the U.S. Markham met the Flores brothers while working at their school. Markham's book is a stark examination of youth migration and the extreme risks taken to access a better life. Ernesto and Raúl's story is interspersed with reporting from stops along the route north, in which Markham explores the dangers of migration and of staying home. Markham questions the accessibility of the American dream while compassionately narrating Raúl and Ernesto's experiences.--Chanoux, Laura Copyright 2017 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ANATOMY OF TERROR: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State, by AN Soufan. (Norton, $18.95.) Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who was a supervisor of counterterrorism programs after the Sept. 11 attacks, offers a grim view of jihadism since Osama bin Laden's death in 2011. He writes, "the cancer of bin Ladenism has metastasized across the Middle East and North Africa and beyond, carried by even more virulent vectors." LESS, by Andrew Sean Greer. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $15.99.) To avoid his former lover's wedding, the middling novelist Arthur Less decides to accept every literary invitation he receives, cobbling together a multicountry journey from New York City to Japan. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize this year, and is the next selection for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times Book Club. THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham. (Broadway, $16.) Markham follows Ernesto and Raúl, twins who decide at age 17 to make the perilous journey from El Salvador to Oakland, Calif. Our critic, Jennifer Senior, praised the book for making "vibrantly real an issue that some see only as theoretical, illuminating aspects of the immigrant experience normally hidden from view." MOTHER LAND, by Paul Theroux. (Mariner/Eamon Dolan/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99.) A fiendishly nasty Cape Cod matriarch - called only Mother - outwardly seems like a pillar of her community, but on her homestead, she lobs insults and pits her seven children against one another. The novel can occasionally read like a long exercise in score-settling; regardless, our reviewer, Stephen King, praised the author's "fabulously nasty sense of humor," writing, "Theroux ends up assassinating all of his characters, but I still enjoyed the play." COMING TO MY SENSES: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, by Alice Waters with Cristina Mueller and Bob Carrau. (Potter, $17.) The founder of Chez Panisse reflects on her formation as a sensualist: meanderings in France that informed her interest in excellent food; Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s; and the aesthetic demarcation between her culinary approach and what she derided as "hippies' style of health food." SING, UNBURIED, SING, by Jesmyn Ward. (Scribner, $17.) In a follow-up to her 2011 novel "Salvage the Bones," Ward tells the story of Jojo and his young sister, who travel with their drug-addicted mother to pick up their father from the Mississippi State Penitentiary. This lyrical and richly empathetic novel won the National Book Award, and was named one of the Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2017.

Kirkus Review

Markham relies on her roles as a journalist and a worker in the realm of refugee resettlement and immigrant education to craft a powerful narrative about an experience that plays out every day in the United States.Focusing primarily on one family's struggle to survive in violence-riddled El Salvador by sending some of its members illegally to the U.S., the author never loses sight of the big-picture issues regarding immigration. Throughout, she inserts brief chapters about those concerns in a compellingly intimate narrative about the Flores family. Markham keenly examines the plights of juveniles sent to America without adult supervision, a large, constantly growing contingent that includes twins Ernesto and Ral Flores, who sought to escape their hometown because they feared for their lives among the rampant gang violence plaguing their country. Knowing almost nothing about the U.S., the Flores twins lacked both money for their journey and any marketable job skills, and they spoke no English. Their journey was harrowing, to say the least (spoilers omitted), and their transition to life in the U.S., mostly in Oakland, continues, raising new difficulties each day. As they have tried to balance their minimum-wage restaurant jobs with education, the schooling has suffered. Meanwhile, their parents and most of their siblings continue to live in highly dangerous circumstances in El Salvador. Markham met the twins in her job as a counselor at a public high school with a heavy influx of juvenile refugees without documentation, and her experience in that role informs the eye-opening narrative. Most of the book takes place before the election of Donald Trump, but it's clear that the policies of the new administration will make the lives of the Flores twins and countless others even more terrifying. One of the most searing books on illegal immigration since Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey (2006). Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Markham (Virginia Quarterly Review) recounts the experiences of twin brothers Ernesto and Raúl Flores, who fled El Salvador at age 17. The author candidly discusses their lives in their home country as they negotiated poverty, violence, and limited possibilities. After their uncle threatens them, the Flores family takes out a massive loan to hire a coyote to transport the twins to the United States. The Flores boys endure hardship and uncertainty during their travels, only to be apprehended after crossing the border. Owing to their status as unaccompanied minors, they are allowed to stay in the country while awaiting deportation proceedings. Markham describes the stress and uncertainty as they navigate a new country and new language. Their experience is contrasted with that of their sister Maricela, who still lives in El Salvador. Markham also intersperses background chapters that provide a larger picture of the migrant crisis and finishes by calling for the United States to claim responsibility for their role in creating the Central American migrant crisis and to address the problem humanely. VERDICT An affecting and personal look into the experiences of minor migrants.-Rebekah Kati, Durham, NC © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof*** Copyright © 2017 Lauren Markham PROLOGUE It's a few minutes after nine o'clock, and the Flores twins are buckled into the backseat of Wilber's Toyota, lurching through downtown San Francisco in search of the courthouse. As their older brother brakes and curses his way through the flurry and gridlock of the morning com- mute, the twins' identical faces press against the windows, hunting for street names and building numbers. They are lost. Their messy packet of immigration papers states the courthouse ad- dress (100 Montgomery Street) and the time they've been ordered to appear: February 19, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. Sharp, they remind themselves. Every appointment in America, they have learned, is expected to be on time, en punto, sharp. A counselor at the Texas detention center had explained this to them, and Wilber has, too. This morning they'd left the apartment with a two-hour window. It's important to be not just on time, but early, in the Estados Unidos, Wilber said. "Shit," he spits from the front seat, as the network of one-ways forces him across Market Street and into the wrong side of downtown. The morning traffic roils and churns around the 4Runner, now stopped in the middle of the intersection. At twenty-four, Wilber is now, for better or worse, for lack of a better option, his brothers' guardian. "Will you agree to be their legal spon­sor?" the woman at the shelter had asked in her Tex-Mex Spanish. Of course he would. He'd signed a paper promising to provide for their basic needs, to feed and clothe them, to enroll them in school, and to get them to court on time. In his seven years here, he'd become an expert on the United States and its rules. A rule of the landscaping business, for instance: no work, no pay. He'd miss another day of wages today. New Montgomery! That's the street they've been looking for­ Montgomery! They drive past strangers in coats and scarves, carrying briefcases, earbuds plugging their ears. The boys are not allowed to use earbuds in class, but Emesto sometimes tries to sneak them in. He likes the way they make him look: cool, indifferent. New Montgomery, New Montgomery, New Montgomery. They reach the end of the street, but the numbers don't seem right. The clock is ticking. "Maybe New Montgomery and Montgomery aren't the same?" sug­gests Raul. THE twins have been dreading this appointment for months, ever since they were picked up out of the Texas desert, their shoes ripped to rag­gedy flaps, their matching bodies swaying with thirst. They thought for sure they'd be deported right away, back to El Salvador and all that awaited them there. But they weren't sent back. They were taken to a detention center, where a woman explained to them that, as minors, they'd have a choice: they could opt to go back to El Salvador on their own-impossible-or they could go to court and fight for the right to stay. Court? In front of a judge? They'd need a lawyer, for starters, and the prospect of obtaining official papers seemed absurd. Why, out of all the so-called illegals like them, like their brother, should they, kids who'd been here only a few months, get papers? It is 9:06. They have just under an hour. Wilber has plugged the ad­dress into his phone's GPS, but the place it directs them to doesn't make sense. It seems to have stopped working altogether. Raul snatches the phone from his twin. "Asshole," Ernesto hisses. Raul hands it back with a shrug. At seventeen, the twins have never been to a city before-unless you count San Salvador, which they'd been only a few times to visit relatives, or Mexico City, where they were practically shackled to their coyote, hunkered down in the spectral underbelly of the pass-throughs. San Francisco looms like no other place they've ever seen. Raul used to picture these buildings in the quiet nights back home, rising upward like ladders, like possibilities. But now that he's under them, they're just endless, indistinguishable boxes. They make him feel, as most things in the United States of America so far do, small and out of place. The twins still have the lingering feeling of being chased, of needing to look over their shoulders. Every few nights now, Ernesto wakes up screaming and slick with sweat. He won't talk about it, but Raul knows his brother. As surely as he knows when Ernesto feels like cutting class to go smoke a cigarette, he knows how afraid Ernesto was before he was run out of town. And during that night in the desert weeks later. The road can change a person. The shelter staff members had explained how court works: the judge will come in, and everyone will stand up. The judge will say the name of each kid with an appointment that day, and the kid should respond presente, here. Last night the boys reviewed what they remembered. Look the judge in the eyes, they reminded each other. In America, their in­structors told them, looking down makes you appear disrespectful. Now the boys' faces are hardening into matching masks of dread. When they get to court, what will they even say to the judge? With no lawyer, no English, no idea what to say on their own behalf, they worry they'll be deported this very day. And then what? The courthouse is here among these buildings somewhere, but where? One hundred Montgomery, the twins read on the court paper again. Everything sounds the same-Montgomery, Market, New Mont­gomery, Minna, Mission-crossing and crisscrossing like the tacky, glint­ing strands of a web. Son of a bitch. "Fucking," Ernesto says in English, like a noun. He had learned that word, fucking, in school. It sounded more raw than the other swears he'd learned. Sacramento Street, California Street, more towering stacks of steel and stone. El Salvador didn't have buildings like this-not that they'd seen, anyway. There the streets weren't so clean, and people tended to walk with more vigilance about their surroundings. Graffiti on the walls marked gang territory you could be killed for crossing, and masked po­ lice patrolled with M-16s and AK-47s. Teenagers like them were posted on corners, texting the bosses any strange comings and goings. In parts of some towns, hardly anyone walked at all. Here in San Francisco it was just coffee cups and commerce-but the foreignness was its own quiet form of terror. Nine-thirty, nine-thirty-five. The numbers keep shifting on the de­funct phone the twins use to keep track of time. Another confused, traffic-laden circuit loops them back to Market Street. The big white clock tower stands resolute against the bay like a cruel joke. Wilber cranks the heat high. Outside it's cold, and the twins haven't brought anything to wear over their almost-matching blue plaid shirts, their nicest items of clothing. Wilber bought them, like practically every­ thing they have. Ernesto's is long-sleeved, a tight-fitting faux flannel, while Raul's is a boxier short-sleeve, his collar buttoned all the way to the top. Both boys have tucked the shirts into their skinny jeans, hiked up higher than usual with the help of belts, and they've laced their sneak­ers tightly, instead of leaving them fashionably loose-tied like the kids at school. They look, accidentally, like twins trying to dress as twins. They've slicked their hair back, and Ernesto has even removed his earrings-the characteristic the teachers at school use to tell them apart. Ernesto scoffed when he saw Raul in the morning. "Copying me," he said. As ten o'clock approaches, Ernesto blinks rapidly, and Raul breathes heavily through his nostrils, lips pressed into a tight, thin line. "Shit," says Wilber in English. He's doing his best. "Should we ask somebody?" Raul finally whispers. Ernesto shoots him a look. Who? Who would we possibly ask? The twins don't speak English, and though Wilber can hold his own, how could he pull over a car in the middle of the downtown rush? If Wilber gets a ticket, the police will have his name. In spite of his seven years here, Wilber feels just as much as his brothers do that immigrant and illegal are painted onto him like a sticky second skin. "Fucking," says Ernesto. They now have ten minutes. They turn onto Mission and loop back toward Market. We've been here before. No, we haven't. Yes, we have-look, that flower man-we saw him before. True. Silence. On the map they see Montgomery station. If Montgomery sta­tion is here, where is the Montgomery Street courthouse? They'll miss their appointment, they'll be sent home, they'll wind up dead, and what would have been the point of any of it-the journey, the debt, all this wandering? Ernesto wants to scream at his brother-How long have you lived here? Can't you find us this fucking courthouse? But his throat seems to have closed up. He blinks even faster, as if to incarnate something better to see. At a certain point, you just give up. They boys know it at the exact same moment, as with many things, but Wilber feels it, too: it's that time, the giving-up time. It's an hour past their appointment. It's over. "Okay," Wilber says. The twins say nothing, just watch out the win­dows as the throng of people drifts away, and they ascend the on-ramp to the bridge. The highway tugs them above the slate-gray sea like a con­veyer belt toward what is now, for now, home. They won't go to school today, probably not tomorrow. It would be too easy for Immigration to find them. But la migra has Wilber's address, too. They should go hide out somewhere, but Wilber is the only person here they really know. They've been hunted by gangs, by packs of wild coyotes in the des­ert, by bad spirits, by rumors, by debt, by Ia migra-an easy, two-for-one prey. The twins look up at the sky as they emerge from the Yerba Buena Tunnel, which shoots them out and slings them back into Oakland. They've been chewed up and spit out all over this godforsaken continent, and after all this, just for missing an appointment, they're sure they'll be delivered back to El Salvador for good. But they can't go back. For too long, the Flores twins have been dodging what now feels inevitable. In the jinxed maze of their lives, at the age of seventeen, they may have reached a dead end.   THE MISSING Enter the examination room in San Salvador's Instituto de Medicina Legal, where a masked doctor cuts into a new corpse. The ammonia fumes burn your eyes. After determining the cause of death, he'll slide the body back into the freezer until someone comes to identify the remains. If no one comes, which sometimes happens--it's too far, or the family doesn't have the money, or the deceased doesn't have a family, or the circumstances of the murder are such that it's best for the next of kin to lie low--the body will be incinerated. But any corpse in San Salvador that has gone undiscovered long enough, decomposing in a cornfield, say, or cast into the dump, is taken to the Department of Forensic Anthropology. In contrast to the courtyard, the anthropology room is antiseptic, all right angles and order. Metal examination tables gleam; file boxes are stacked atop the counters and tables and floor. Like puzzle masters, the forensic anthropologists turn over the con- tents of each and fit the pieces together to figure how a human being turned into a box of bones. Some of the skeletons are old and weather worn, turning the color of rust; they look as though they would flake at a touch. These bones were exhumed from the site of the 1981 massacre of El Mozote during El Salvador's civil war, when government troops stormed a suspected guerrilla haven and slaughtered more than nine hundred men, women, and children. Some they killed with guns and machetes; others they corralled into the town church, then set it on fire. This skeleton here, laid out on the butcher paper, strewn with bits of the El Mozote soil mixed with the dust of his own bones, was a man "in his thirties," one anthropologist estimated. "A farmer, most likely." The bones on the neighboring table, sturdier and whiter and in far fewer pieces, are from a newer war, a war more elusive and harder to track: the gang war. "This one here came from a clandestine grave in San Salvador." A pit behind a San Salvador slum. She'd been a young woman­ they estimated about seventeen, killed within the last year. Based on markings inside her pelvis, she'd once given birth. In the front of the skull, just above where the girl might have tweezed her brows or dusted a shimmer of shadow, was a splintered hole. "A heavy object," the anthropologist says, running her fingers along the breach. "Last week a man came in with thirty-seven bullets," recalled a morgue administrator. "Thirty-seven! Can you imagine?" They cut a neat rectangle out of the young mother's femur for DNA. It's hard to know who the particular killers in this new war are. Most homicides-especially the mass graves, like the one from which the young mother was pulled-are known to be the work of the gangs. Yet around 95 percent of crimes in the North­ ern Triangle go uncharged. To report a mass grave or denounce a gang member for murder carries a near-certain death sentence for the accuser and often for his or her family, too. So people keep quiet; the bodies pile up. At the front gate of the morgue, a woman is quietly crying, shoulders quaking as she presses a tissue beneath an eye. She leans into a young man, her son perhaps, who wears a stiff expression behind aviator sunglasses. The armed guards notice, then look away. A different woman enters the gate. "I'm here to register a disappeared?" she says, like a question. She signs her name in the tattered logbook, and the guard points where to go with one hand, holding his gun with the other. If your local police haven't found the person you're looking for, you go to the morgue to make another report. The Instituto de Medicina Legal staff affixes the photograph to a wall, along with many others. They hang beneath a plastic cover so clean it reflects the onlooker, a flickering superimposition against the black and white faces of adults and children arranged by date last seen. THESE PHOTOGRAPHS WILL BE KEPT ON THIS BILLBOARD FOR TWO MONTHS, DEPENDING ON SPACE, the sign explains. It is late July; April's disappeared have just been taken down. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION, the sign concludes. A police truck pulls into the compound, and two officers, clad in boots and balaclavas, hop out and escort a scowling young man, no more than sixteen or seventeen. His hair is gelled into spikes, and he sports low-sagging shorts, barely laced high-top sneakers, and a bright red T-shirt. The police move him roughly toward one of the doors. "A gangster," someone says after he passes. "They get a psychological evaluation here," the guard explains, "before going to jail." The courts are so backed up that this young man could be in jail for weeks, months, even years before a trial. Thus he, too, becomes one of San Salvador's missing. Excerpted from The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. xiii
Prologuep. 1
The Missingp. 6
Chapter 1

p. 9

The Floodp. 28
Chapter 2

p. 31

The Churnp. 46
Chapter 3

p. 50

The Wallsp. 69
Chapter 4

p. 73

The Courthousep. 90
Chapter 5

p. 94

The Detainedp. 110
Chapter 6

p. 113

The Arrestp. 135
Chapter 7

p. 138

The Girlsp. 156
Chapter 8

p. 160

The Failedp. 182
Chapter 9

p. 185

The Haltp. 202
Chapter 10

p. 205

The Long Walkp. 228
Chapter 11

p. 232

The Landp. 249
Chapter 12

p. 251

Afterwordp. 266
Notesp. 271
Acknowledgmentsp. 287
Indexp. 291
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