book reviews

“Because we speak of them in the collective–as ‘illegal immigrants’ or ‘the undocumented’–it is shocking to be addressed by a singular voice. Nearly twenty years ago José Ángel N. entered the United States under cover of darkness from his native Mexico. Now he addresses us in elegant American English. He is the cosmopolite in a country where he remains ‘the illegal.’ He works as a translator; he reads German philosophy; he is married to an American wife; they have a young daughter. The view from the skyscraper window is of Lake Michigan; on his computer screen, the face of his mother appears in her green house in Guadalajara, Mexico. There are ironies aplenty in this book. Perhaps the greatest irony is that he has been studying us and he knows us better than we know him.” –Richard Rodriguez, author of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography

“A memoir from a decent man living in the shadows, evading questions and telling lies, presented here anonymously since to reveal his identity would mean to risk arrest and deportation. . . . An utterly believable close-up picture of one illegal immigrant’s life in the United States.”–Kirkus Reviews

“He is like the Sisyphus of Greek mythological fame, stuck in an endless cycle of striving to push a boulder up a hill, anticipating the boulder will roll down again […] Against the odds, he overcomes major barrier after barrier.” —American Journal of Education

“With great eloquence and pathos, N. draws on his daily life and references philosophers from Socrates to Kant to describe the netherworld of the undocumented. He takes solace in his education and his gift for reflection as he watches the slow and frustrating process of immigration reform. N. gives voice to the millions who, of necessity, live in the shadows.” —Booklist

“At one point N. worries about his English-speaking skills, believing that others ‘lean toward me’ because they can’t understand him. Perhaps it is not his diction; perhaps others recognize that his is a voice worth listening to.” —Library Journal

“I’m not sure how to classify this –memoir? Essay? There are elements of all the non fiction genres mixed into this thin volume which packs quite a punch. I thought it was absolutely wonderful. N. speaks elegantly about all the struggles of an undocumented immigrant in the USA… I guess I love immigrant narratives -the shadowy underland- in general but N.’s perspective as an ‘illegal’ is one that I feel like there needs to be much more of in the literary world.” —Reading Like I’m Feasting

“We do not have enough courageous writers who take the risk of telling their stories while undocumented. Illegal offers important testimony of the type of life an undocumented immigrant can lead when they have opportunities like N’s. From the moment I began to read it I could not put it down.”–Rita E. Urquijo-Ruiz, author of Wild Tongues: Transnational Mexican Popular Culture

“José Ángel penetró en el laberinto de la lengua con la curiosidad y entusiasmo de un niño. Su elección del inglés no es, como él mismo en muchas ocasiones piensa, una decisión fría y racional. Es más bien un acto de amor y de fe”. –Marco Antonio Escalante, autor de Malabarismos del tedio

“It is in his family, however, that N. finds his greatest comfort, strength and hope for the future. His expressions of love for his wife and daughter round out the self-portrait of an intelligent and sensitive human being who is as much North American as he is Mexican. He does not try to justify breaking any laws, but rather simply to communicate human experience. In doing so, N. is able to put a truly human face on the “shadow” that he is in our society and show us that he, along with the other eleven million undocumented people who live and toil in our nation, deserve to come out into the sun.” Brandon P. Bisbey, The Pilsen Review of Books

Illegal is a compelling personal testimony from a member of one of the most silenced groups in the United States. With striking detail, the author shows us how his undocumented status has enmeshed him in a world of perpetual hiding in which any true breakthrough to life as a free man remains, frustratingly, just out of reach. Throughout the book, we become painfully aware of the ironies in how undocumented immigrants are treated in the U.S. . . . The author of Illegal is an individual voice speaking out against a broken system that continues to dehumanize millions of otherwise honest people living and working among us. To our benefit, the author has chosen to use his gift for writing and the tools provided by his education in the U.S. to let at least his story be known.” —Amazon reviewer

“Whatever the reader may think about American immigration policy and N.’s rather unusual personal situation for a Mexican immigrant, we have to appreciate his determination to take full advantage of the American window of possibility that he has pried open by living a lie.”–New York Journal of Books

“Illegal gives a different perspective of undocumented workers. . . He details the struggles, embarrassments and difficulties of what it is like to be an illegal immigrant . . . José Ángel N. is an inspiration and if his life story doesn’t move you —then I don’t know what will.” —Books & Reviews

“Illegal gives testimony to both the promise the U.S. still holds for those outside its borders and to the contributions made by those often berated as “illegals.” Reading it will leave you, like the author, mourning the lack of a real national dialogue and policy on immigration, one that moves beyond political posturing and serves both immigrant and nation alike.” —Amazon reviewer

“En Illegal . . . el lector encontrará una historia única . . . una historia feliz y amarga al mismo tiempo, porque cumplió el sueño americano—alcanzó una situación económica estable— pero ha tenido que mantenerse siempre con un perfil bajo, mirando por encima de su hombro, temeroso de perder en un instante todo aquello por lo que se ha esforzado por años . . . Este libro, cuyo valor testimonial no debe subestimarse, está escrito en inglés, lo cual es una muestra contundente de que este mexicano pisa fuerte, rompe estereotipos y está comprometido con su futuro”. –Martha Bátiz, autora de De tránsito

“When I started reading [Illegal], it brought many conflicting thoughts . . . This memoir isn’t just about the life of the author but for others similar . . .  Whether you choose to read this book based upon your own personal thoughts, it definitely gives a voice and a perspective on an issue that has divided our opinions for some time now.” —What Is That Book About

“The story of N.’s first attempt at crossing the border to losing his job seventeen years later was eye-opening. It covers things such as losing his facility with Spanish while becoming better at English, his desire for an education and how he realizes (just like the rest of us Americans) that a degree really only means debt and not a job, his isolation from both his Mexican undocumented friends and his American citizen friends, and, finally, his search for an identity. . . [He] is caught between assimilation and alienation, and he fears he’ll be caught there forever.” —Goodreads reviewer
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