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By the Lake of Sleeping Children explores the post-NAFTA and Proposition 187 border purgatory of garbage pickers and dump dwellers, gawking tourists, and relief workers, fearsome coyotes, and their desperate clientele. In 16 indelible portraits, Urrea illuminates the horrors and the simple joys of people trapped between the two worlds of Mexico and the United States--and i By the Lake of Sleeping Children explores the post-NAFTA and Proposition 187 border purgatory of garbage pickers and dump dwellers, gawking tourists, and relief workers, fearsome coyotes, and their desperate clientele. In 16 indelible portraits, Urrea illuminates the horrors and the simple joys of people trapped between the two worlds of Mexico and the United States--and ignored by both. The result is a startling and memorable work of first-person reportage.


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By the Lake of Sleeping Children explores the post-NAFTA and Proposition 187 border purgatory of garbage pickers and dump dwellers, gawking tourists, and relief workers, fearsome coyotes, and their desperate clientele. In 16 indelible portraits, Urrea illuminates the horrors and the simple joys of people trapped between the two worlds of Mexico and the United States--and i By the Lake of Sleeping Children explores the post-NAFTA and Proposition 187 border purgatory of garbage pickers and dump dwellers, gawking tourists, and relief workers, fearsome coyotes, and their desperate clientele. In 16 indelible portraits, Urrea illuminates the horrors and the simple joys of people trapped between the two worlds of Mexico and the United States--and ignored by both. The result is a startling and memorable work of first-person reportage.

30 review for By the Lake of Sleeping Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Eris

    This collection of essays centers around the orphans, dump dwellers and trash pickers in Tijuana. As they slag through our trash (courtesy NAFTA) to make a living, or beg, or accept missionary charity because the prayer is worth the trade for food and clothes, you follow along a guilty observer. These are humans, they don't live that far away. A human created border, a wall of poverty... marginalized by their own countrymen (as we do with our homeless and poor), criminalized by our countrymen - This collection of essays centers around the orphans, dump dwellers and trash pickers in Tijuana. As they slag through our trash (courtesy NAFTA) to make a living, or beg, or accept missionary charity because the prayer is worth the trade for food and clothes, you follow along a guilty observer. These are humans, they don't live that far away. A human created border, a wall of poverty... marginalized by their own countrymen (as we do with our homeless and poor), criminalized by our countrymen - they just want to live. Urrea takes us briefly into their worlds, giving a snapshot of those who live with a sense of humor even at the destruction of all they own because there is no other way to get by. While this is dated in regards to the political situation, the words are relevant as ever. Humanizing, hard to read, and beautiful - I recommend this to anyone who has interest in solving the problems of poverty, fixing our relationship with Mexico and its citizens, or who just has an interest in humanity and how we treat each other. What you do unto the least of these...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Blanchard

    Have an opinion about illegal immigrants? Then this book is for you! You'll learn so much through the stories and statistics of Mexico's most oppressed -- the men, women, and children who are born in, live in, and and are eventually buried in the garbage dumps of Tijuana, Mexico. That's right. They live in shacks, right in the garbage. And when they die, they're buried in the dump. Although their graves are marked, their bodies often float to the surface during floods. It's a crazy life of hopel Have an opinion about illegal immigrants? Then this book is for you! You'll learn so much through the stories and statistics of Mexico's most oppressed -- the men, women, and children who are born in, live in, and and are eventually buried in the garbage dumps of Tijuana, Mexico. That's right. They live in shacks, right in the garbage. And when they die, they're buried in the dump. Although their graves are marked, their bodies often float to the surface during floods. It's a crazy life of hopelessness that illustrates the struggle to escape at any cost...even if that means facing arrest, abuse, or even death in a desert crossing into the U.S.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Khalia

    Urrea described two chapters as being brutal and obscene. I am grateful that I didn't skip them. They were integral to the story. The last chapter touched my heart. A family headed by a resilient Juana and a rascal named Manuel proved that hope dies last. They lost everything in a fire but they still persevered.

  4. 5 out of 5

    sue glenzer thomas

    Outstanding I am always sad when I finish one of Luis's books. His slurs of writing had always made me feel as it I was standing right next to him seeing everything just as he described it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John

    I hope this one exorcised Luis' devils. It's hard to believe how much "bad stuff" the author encountered in the Tijuana area. Unfortunately, I believe every word of it. Very powerful, however sad.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Powerful, haunting images of people start on page one and continue through the end of these narratives. Urrea's words are not maudlin, yet they carry tremendous emotional impact because they grow into stories of people I come to care about, not merely unknown people gathered into masses. Instead, the people remembered in these pages are individuals with needs and names. I was shocked to realize the extreme poverty they endured, truly surpassing any conception of poverty I've witnessed -- certain Powerful, haunting images of people start on page one and continue through the end of these narratives. Urrea's words are not maudlin, yet they carry tremendous emotional impact because they grow into stories of people I come to care about, not merely unknown people gathered into masses. Instead, the people remembered in these pages are individuals with needs and names. I was shocked to realize the extreme poverty they endured, truly surpassing any conception of poverty I've witnessed -- certainly surpassing any poverty I've endured. Though people here span all ages children are predominant in these stories. Curious about the fates of these children, I double-checked the publication date just now: 1996. I shudder to think what they may have endured in these 23+ years since then; I hope many found their dreams come true. Please read this. It's heartbreaking face the realities here, but it can also be galvanizing for us readers. Before taking action, we require awareness, and Urrea definitely educates us about the humans we far too often overlook.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Abbie Navarrete

    After reading "Into the beautiful north" by this author I set out to find everything else he has ever written and found this book. It would not appear to be a feel good book after all conditions in the border and especially for the people who live in the "dompes" are terrible. But as much as it is hard to imagine people living in these conditions what I came away with was admiration for these people who don't seem to ever feel sorry for themselves and simply set out to survive. Beautifully writt After reading "Into the beautiful north" by this author I set out to find everything else he has ever written and found this book. It would not appear to be a feel good book after all conditions in the border and especially for the people who live in the "dompes" are terrible. But as much as it is hard to imagine people living in these conditions what I came away with was admiration for these people who don't seem to ever feel sorry for themselves and simply set out to survive. Beautifully written, honest and moving a must read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Very graphic. Some parts were very obscene. If it wasn't required for my class I wouldn't have finished it. Description of life on the Mexican/American border.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Tijuana, Mexico is one of the most poor cities in all of the Americas. And in the most poor city, there are the poorest of the poor who live, work, and play in a dump. That's not an adjective but an actual place: people live in the city dump. People are born, play, work, and live in the dump, and even die and are buried in the dump. The title of the book refers to a lagoon in the middle of the dump in which long-deceased children's bodies find their way to the surface and float. The residents of Tijuana, Mexico is one of the most poor cities in all of the Americas. And in the most poor city, there are the poorest of the poor who live, work, and play in a dump. That's not an adjective but an actual place: people live in the city dump. People are born, play, work, and live in the dump, and even die and are buried in the dump. The title of the book refers to a lagoon in the middle of the dump in which long-deceased children's bodies find their way to the surface and float. The residents of the town dump are occasionally visited by well-meaning Christian groups who bring food, toys, and showers. This was an interesting, short glimpse into the lives of the very poor living in Tijuana. The book was written in the 1990's but I feel like it is still pertinent and that things have not changed very much. The chapters are short and fly by. There is one chapter devoted to smuggling Mexican women into the United States for work, but the vast majority of the book is about life in and around the Tijuana Dump. There was one chapter that described some really awful animal abuse, but the author tells the reader in his Introduction chapter which one it is so you can avoid it if you like. There are also a couple of references to domestic violence, sex, and alcohol use but it is not widespread. I think this is a good book for people who are anti-immigrant to read as it is really eye-opening about the lives of these people and why they seek out a better life in the United States.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Devon

    Want some insight into the issues at the border? Read this (or other Urrea books). This book was so well written the words disappeared as I read and I was walking through the "dompe" with Urrea, seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing everything. Even though the book was written well before the current crisis and administrative "response" to the border crisis, Urrea foresaw what would happen very clearly. I cannot say more without spoilers so I'll use the Richard Rodriguez quote at the beginning of t Want some insight into the issues at the border? Read this (or other Urrea books). This book was so well written the words disappeared as I read and I was walking through the "dompe" with Urrea, seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing everything. Even though the book was written well before the current crisis and administrative "response" to the border crisis, Urrea foresaw what would happen very clearly. I cannot say more without spoilers so I'll use the Richard Rodriguez quote at the beginning of the book: "The illegal immigrant is the bravest among us. The most modern among us. The prophet...The peasant knows the reality of our world decades before the California suburbanite will ever get the point." Word.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    First published more than 20 years ago, this book remains sadly relevant and shows that our immigration system has been broken for a long time. But, as Urrea writes in the introduction, this isn't about politics or trends or data points or sociology. It is simply a book about humans. Poverty-stricken humans facing unimaginable hardships who somehow manage to never lose hope. Nowhere is that more clear than in the final chapter. After seeing their meager house burn down, a husband and wife begin First published more than 20 years ago, this book remains sadly relevant and shows that our immigration system has been broken for a long time. But, as Urrea writes in the introduction, this isn't about politics or trends or data points or sociology. It is simply a book about humans. Poverty-stricken humans facing unimaginable hardships who somehow manage to never lose hope. Nowhere is that more clear than in the final chapter. After seeing their meager house burn down, a husband and wife begin dreaming of a new home, the one they will build now, the one that will have a rose garden because, as Juana says, "Roses, they're like music for your eyes."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Daphyne

    A collection of essays about life in the garbage dumps of Tijuana. It reminded me of my time spent in the garbage dumps of Cairo. Poverty is exhausting. It’s cruel. It’s dirty. It’s ugly. This book is a call to change and to a genuine compassion that lasts longer than a high school mission’s trip. It’s been 30 years since Urrea wrote this. Sadly, things along the border are no better now. Looking forward to reading more of this author’s work.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paul Mena

    Like most of Luis Alberto Urrea's non-fiction ("Under the Wire" and "The Devil's Highway" come to mind), "By the Lake of Sleeping Children" pulls no punches. We're even warned in the Introduction that certain chapters might be best avoided by the faint of heart. To do so, however, would mean missing Urrea's eye for detail and always eloquent prose. Yes, it might haunt your nightmares, but that's entirely the point.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Had to read this book for my Borderland class. It was such a great book. It really humbles you down. The book has some complicated topics, death, poverty, abuse. BUT it's totally still worth the read, it truly makes you open your eyes.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Richter

    A collection of nonfiction essays that's powerful and affecting, and sometimes a little grisly, but always felt genuine and raw. Urrea is a terrific writer, but I think I hoped for a more connected narrative. Well worth the read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Janet Ledford

    I have read this book over and over.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mona Langer

    Insightful and inspiring. Urrea is a master of sharing the story of this population/community. There is so much I want to say...but I am left speechless.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    At once heartening and sad and descriptive as hell. Like humanity is. I plowed through this quickly.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael Eck

    Still relevant, always well written, heart breaking.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    DNF. So boring that I couldn't make myself to continue reading it. Writing is strange, sometimes it feels more like you're reading a list of words from some dictionary rather than a normal book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kerrin

    I was really struck by the stories in this book & the fact that it was published in the 1990s not long after I moved to Texas. I really wish I would've found it then. I was really struck by the stories in this book & the fact that it was published in the 1990s not long after I moved to Texas. I really wish I would've found it then.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Description: Luis Alberto Urrea's first book, Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border, was a haunting and unprecedented look at what life is like for those living on the Mexican side of the border, eking out only the barest of lives not far from the white sands and coral reefs of Southern California. His poignant, widely acclaimed account of the struggle of these people to survive amid the abject poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and legal and political chaos that reign i Description: Luis Alberto Urrea's first book, Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border, was a haunting and unprecedented look at what life is like for those living on the Mexican side of the border, eking out only the barest of lives not far from the white sands and coral reefs of Southern California. His poignant, widely acclaimed account of the struggle of these people to survive amid the abject poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and legal and political chaos that reign in the Mexican borderlands vividly illustrated why so many are forced to make the treacherous and illegal journey "across the wire" into the United States. Written with the same unflagging curiosity, compassion, mordant wit, and novelistic sense of detail that made Across the Wire "a work of investigative reporting that is also a bittersweet song of human anguish" (Los Angeles Times), By the Lake of Sleeping Children explores the post-NAFTA and Proposition 187 border purgatory of garbage pickers and dump dwellers, gawking tourists and relief workers, fearsome coyotes and their desperate clientele. In sixteen indelible portraits, Urrea illuminates the horrors and the simple joys of people trapped between the two worlds of Mexico and the United States - and ignored by both. The result is a startling and memorable work of first-person reportage. Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico; Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico; Mexican-American Border Regions Subjects: Tijuana (Baja California, Mexico) -- Social conditions. Mexican-American Border Region -- Social conditions. Ragpickers -- Mexico -- Tijuana (Baja California) POLITICAL SCIENCE -- Public Policy -- Cultural Policy. SOCIAL SCIENCE -- Anthropology -- Cultural. SOCIAL SCIENCE -- Popular Culture. Ragpickers. Social conditions Mexico -- Tijuana (Baja California) North America -- Mexican-American Border Region. Contents: Introductory matters: Home of the brave. -- A lake of sleeping children. -- Dompe days. -- The pink penitentiary. -- Words in collision. -- Borderland blues: six impressions. -- In the wet. -- The bald monkey and other atrocities. -- The stupidity of evil: adventures in the woman trade. -- A day in the life.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This is short narratives about people living in Tijuana, as well as the author's personal experiences working in Baja California giving aid to orphanages around the state. He takes true stories and adds a poet's touch, taking journalism to a more human level. It's beautiful and heartbreaking, helarious and makes you want to cry. It encapsulates the border and the daily contradictions that makes this place so confusing and amazing, and explains some of the underlying political reasons behind why This is short narratives about people living in Tijuana, as well as the author's personal experiences working in Baja California giving aid to orphanages around the state. He takes true stories and adds a poet's touch, taking journalism to a more human level. It's beautiful and heartbreaking, helarious and makes you want to cry. It encapsulates the border and the daily contradictions that makes this place so confusing and amazing, and explains some of the underlying political reasons behind why it has so damn many problems. It was written almost ten years ago, so if you are to read this book today, know that every gut-wrenching story that you read about poverty, the border patrol, and the police presence in both the U.S. and Mexico is now probably at least 10 times worse than when he wrote the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    I read this book while taking a class on environmental injustice. While it is certainly not what I normally read, I found that a combination of reading and discussion helped to bring out the important ideas within the stories. Realistic representation of what these people go through every day to survive in the border town of Tijuana. Urrea goes to great lengths to describe the details which make this town unique. Scenes are vivid and characters unique. His own understanding of Mexico and United S I read this book while taking a class on environmental injustice. While it is certainly not what I normally read, I found that a combination of reading and discussion helped to bring out the important ideas within the stories. Realistic representation of what these people go through every day to survive in the border town of Tijuana. Urrea goes to great lengths to describe the details which make this town unique. Scenes are vivid and characters unique. His own understanding of Mexico and United States allows him to guide the reader through the text and connect them to those ideas. I would recommend, especially for those interested in the environment, human rights, justice/injustice, etc..

  25. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    Urrea does a good job of illustrating the cycle of dependence between the US and Mexico, or the cycle of oppressor and oppressed, if you will. I personally didn't see the author as blaming Mexico alone; there is plenty of scathing commentary on US involvement from foreign policy, NAFTA, and maquiladoras*, down to the individuals who take a day trip down to hand out food, clothes, and hygienic products.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Riah

    An intentionally shocking (because its true) cultural perspective, meant to jar its reader to recognize ALL societal facets. I found this book stirring, assertive, and at times too close for comfort. Please be sure to read the preface, as the author has provided important information as to which essays to skip for those faint of heart.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rosa

    Another book by the Mexican/American author Luis Urrea. This one although a non-fiction reads like a novel. His portrayal of the garbage pickers and people who live at the dump in the border town of Tijuana is shocking, sad and at times funny. Now that I've seen Slumdog Millionaire it's perhaps not so different. Urrea doesn't ask for pity, nor help, just tells it how it is. Quite enlightening.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    If you wonder WHY the Mexican people come into the U.S. by desperately crossing the border illegally, read this book. I gave it four stars not because it isn't a wonderful report and story of the poor, but I can't say "it was amazing" (it's sad) though it IS amazing that the American people don't know what really is going on.

  29. 4 out of 5

    WM Rine

    You have never met people like the people to whom Luis Alberto Urrea introduces us in this book. The people are rendered plainly, honestly, lyrically, as few could. And you will not forget them. Do yourself a favor -- read this book and meet some people you'll be glad to carry with you for the rest of your life.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liz Murray

    The work of a generous and giving writer. Urrea tells the stories of people we know about in the shadows and that we most likely feel bad for, and that feeling doesn't really change, but we read about the lives they experience, their friendships, their families as well as their work and so no longer can we pretend not to see them smile and laugh.

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