The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham


I heard about this book from Subway Book Review on Instagram and I added it to my TBR (to be read) list thinking I would get to it eventually. However, I decided that I would be focusing on reading a little more about immigration this month, and decided why not dive into this book.

If you’re like me and knew nothing about this book before now, here is a little intro to the story

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.

This book is a fascinating look at the current immigration situation in Central America. It is at once both, micro and macro. In the small sense we follow a set of Salvadorian twins as they leave home and move to California. We experience their failures and triumphs, their pain and their joy. We watch them as they navigate life away from home and family in a whole new world, El Norte. Some of the things they go through are harrowing and spirit breaking, and we follow them as they navigate that. As they grow and as they stumble.

Markham doesn’t stop there. She uses this story as a jumping off point to tell a much bigger story. The story of how this crisis started, how it has evolved, and how dangerous it has all become. Both life in these Central American countries, and life upon coming to America. She looks at the economic instability and violence that prompts people to leave home. We look at the choice to leave home, and how in the face of fear for one’s life, that that choice is less of a choice, and more of an ultimatum. Markham also examines how America has been involved in helping to create the instability in Central America, and what responsibility America has to right their wrongs?

I was moved by this book. I felt I learned so much, and understood the immigration situation, especially that of unaccompanied minors much better. I felt connected to the twins and their personal struggles in a way that humanized children that flee their hometowns to find a better life for themselves and their families. It was a reminder that these children are just that, children, and that they deserve a chance to thrive, and not merely survive. No matter where they were born and what mistakes they make along the way.

I would recommend this book to just about anyone. A lot of the themes are universal, and the topic is so current, it is worth reading and thinking about. If you do read it, or you have read it tell me what you thought about it.

  • Audio CD: 11 hours 12 minutes
  • Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
  • Publisher: Random House Audio (September 12, 2017)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy The Far Away Brothers  in print or audio on Amazon

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2 thoughts on “The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham

  1. I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and found it incredibly heartbreaking. I think that many people don’t realize how dire circumstances are in someone’s home country for them to try to enter the US illegally.
    But as much as the circumstances for Ernesto and Raul were difficult and not their fault, I was so frustrated by some of their decisions. I had to constantly remind myself that they are teenagers, and at an age where stupid decisions are the norm. When they didn’t go to class because they had worked late the night before, that was understandable. When they skipped class because they just didn’t feel like going, or they’d rather hang out with a girl, I cringed (I fee like such a parent).
    This book really made me think about the current US administration, and if there are any fixes to the immigration concerns. I wish this book got more publicity because it really is a worthwhile read.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts on this book. I really loved this book as well and hope it will get more publicity. I think the main point of including the mistakes that the boys made is to show that people can make mistakes and still deserve the right to a safe place to live. That skipping class is not a cardinal sin and that all children deserve the opportunities to make stupid mistakes, not just those who are lucky enough to be born in a safe(r) country. It also highlights how terrifying the rhetoric around immigration is, this idea that his people are “animals” even though the worst thing that they’re doing is deciding to skip class. The hatred in that language becomes more apparent the more we’re forced to look at the actuality of the situation. Thank you again for sharing.

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