The Tijuana Book of the Dead

Soft Skull. Mar. 2015. 208p. ISBN 9781619024823. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Urrea, a Pulizer Prize finalist for the nonfiction The Devil's Highway and an award winner in fiction and poetry as well, offers what his publisher calls a kind of "love song" for life at the U.S.-Mexico border. Like Walt Whitman in his obsessive songs, Urrea tries to put readers in a rhythmic, aphoristic trance: "listen like saguaros listening/ to cactus wrens, coyotes, night/ owl: listen like the owl/ listen like the owl's prey/ jittery in rocks beneath bighorn's/ clocking feet." Urrea's facility with language (he writes in English and Spanish, at times in the same poem) and with sound is absolutely striking, but this book is 200 pages and six sections on the same treatise.
VERDICT As Whitman's masterpiece can attest, such an outpouring necessitates some failures in the mix. That said, readers won't dispute Urrea's storytelling ability, as many of these poems are efficiently packaged narratives of seemingly real people at the real border, burdened with desire and pain and oppression, and even routine; nor will they be able to dispute this book's tremendous, thumping heart.
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