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An electrifying memoir from a Mexican-American US Border Patrol guard

How does a line in the sand become a barrier that people will risk everything to cross?

Francisco Cantú was a US Border Patrol agent from 2008 to 2012. He worked the desert along the Mexican border, at the remote crossroads of drug routes and smuggling corridors, tracking humans through blistering days and frigid nights across a vast terrain.

He detains the exhausted and the parched. He hauls in the dead. He tries not to think where the stories go from there.

He is descended from Mexican immigrants, so the border is in his blood. But the line he is sworn to defend is dissolving. Haunted by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. And when an immigrant friend is caught on the wrong side of the border, Cantú faces a final confrontation with a world he believed he had escaped.

The Line Becomes a River is timely and electrifying. It brings to life this landscape of sprawling borderlands and the countless people who risk their lives to cross it. Yet it takes us beyond one person’s experience to reveal truths about life on either side of an arbitrary line, wherever it is.


This book tells the hard poetry of the desert heart. If you think you know about immigration and the border, you will see there is much to learn. And you will be moved by its unexpected music

Luís Alberto Urrea, author of THE DEVIL'S HIGHWAY

There is a line dividing what we know and do not know. Some see the world from one shore and some from the other. Cantú brings the two together to a spiritual whole. My gratitude for this work of the soul.

Sandra Cisneros, author of THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET

One of the perks of being a writer is you get sent proofs of books. Most are not for me but occasionally you get sent a gem. The Line Becomes a River is such a book. It is stunningly good. Beautiful, smart, raw, sad, poetic and humane… It’s the best thing I’ve read for ages

James Rebanks, author of THE SHEPHERD'S LIFE

Cantú’s story, and intelligent and humane perspective, should mortify anyone who ever thought building a wall might improve our lot. He advocates for clarity and compassion in place of xenophobia and uninformed rhetoric. His words are emotionally true and his literary sensibility uplifting

Barry Lopez, author of ARCTIC DREAMS and OF WOLVES AND MEN

Tender, lyrical, and with a singular poise that is unsentimental and restrained, in prose as clear as desert air

John Paul Rathbone, Financial Times

Lyrical and moving... Cantu describes the borderlands and his work there with a raw-nerved tenderness that seems to have been won from both the landscape and the violence he was implicated in. Told in three increasingly soul-searching parts, The Line Becomes a River frequently feels momentous... Remarkable

William Atkins, Guardian

A beautiful, fiercely honest, and nevertheless deeply empathetic look at those who police the border and the migrants who risk – and lose -- their lives crossing it. In a time of often ill-informed or downright deceitful political rhetoric, this book is an invaluable corrective

Phil Klay, author of REDEPLOYMENT

[A] must-read memoir ... Cantú's skill as a writer proves an equal match for his material. A digestible account of US and Mexico relations, a nuanced portrait of Mexican cultural blessings and ills, The Line Becomes A River is a page-turning personal story that holds until the final page and wrenches long after.

Olivia Cole

Humanity is the preoccupation of The Line Becomes a River—recognizing it, acknowledging it, salvaging it.

Carlos Lozada, Washington Post

[Cantú's] compelling, tragic account may help to break down the wall for others, too.

The Economist

Francisco Cantu’s story is a lyrical journey that helps bridge the jagged line that divides us from them. His empathy reminds us of our humanity -- our immigrant history -- at a critical time.

Alfredo Corchado, author of MIDNIGHT IN MEXICO

Cantú's sparsely poetic non-fiction debut is timely ... Radio 4's Book of the Week is brilliantly evocative of the starkly beautiful reaches of the desert and of the human stories behind the statistics. Alongside the personal dimension, Cantú intelligently explores the history and causes of Mexican immigration to America, and the US response.

Radio Times

A raw, compelling memoir… The Line Becomes a River offers an eloquent rebuke to all those who look to build walls rather than build bridges between people.

Nck Rennison, Sunday Times

Cantú’s rich prose and deep empathy make this an indispensable look at one of America’s most divisive issues

Publishers Weekly, starred review

Spare, graceful, and full of the details that propel a good story… His life on the line has made him the kind of expert we need to hear from.

Boston Globe

A beautifully-crafted question; the answer has yet to be written.


Fascinating and heartbreaking.

Lucy Scholes, The Independent

This work may determine for future generations what building a wall does to magnify the heartache of plight and flight, of people moving between nation and nationality…without the agency to define it themselves.


Especially timely and resonant.

Entertainment Weekly

[A] honest (and, not incidentally, beautifully written) evocation of one human experience.

Daniel Hahn, The Spectator

Quietly heartbreaking…intimate and unforgettable.


Raw and timely confessional… A striking picture of the unsparing borderlands.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

A book that whips across your face like a sandstorm, embedding bits of the desert into your skin that, like it or not, you’ll carry forward.

San Francisco Chronicle

This beautiful and horrifying memoir should be required reading by anyone who feels that immigration is the nation’s number one issue right now.

NY Journal of Books

The best book on immigration you will read this year

Mother Jones

His lyrical asides about the border, from the history of its creation to quotations of poets who've written about it, are passionately delivered and speak to his urge to give nameless migrants an identity

LA Times

Brilliantly written and quietly provocative.

Darragh McManus, Irish Independent

Brilliantly evocative of the starkly beautiful reaches of the desert and of the human stories behind the statistics.

Nick Curtis, Radio Times

Opening the pages of The Line Becomes A River is like entering a new world.

Suzanne Lynch, Irish Times

Some sort of reckoning… Powerful and essential work.

RTE Guide, Donal O'Donoghue

An honest and moving memoir of human tragedy and systemic failings.

Morning Star Online

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    February 12, 2018

    Bodley Head

    RRP $29.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback


    March 15, 2018

    Bodley Head

    RRP $35.00

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au


Chapter One

My mother and I drove east across the flatlands, along the vast floor of an ancient sea. We had come to West Texas to spend Thanksgiving in the national park where my mother worked as a ranger during the years when I formed my first childhood memories—images of wooded canyons and stone mountains rising up from the earth, the sound of wind whipping across low desert hills, the warmth of the sun beating down upon endless scrublands.


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