Border Odyssey is a quixotic, modern-day, too-small-rental-car determined drive toward understanding the US-Mexico divide: all 1,969 miles. It is former farmer, turned activist, photographer and Steinbeck-inspired author, Charles D. Thompson, Jr. who makes the trip, sometimes with awe and wide-eyed students, sometimes with comedy, misadventure, and Hope, his wife—all the while pressing on with what he calls the useful fiction of a map:
“I needed to go to the place where countless innocent people had been kicked, cussed, spit on, arrested, detained, trafficked, and killed, all for the sake of working in the U.S. for a pittance. I wanted to go where it seemed our fears had superseded our sense of humanity…. It would become clear… the border, la frontera, was more multifaceted and profound than anything we could have invented about it from afar.”
Though observation and meditation, Border Odyssey scopes like no other book the contradictory pulses of the people and towns on both sides.
Murders continue along the border during Thompson’s journey, but there is much more to the story than just the violence. Five centuries of cultural history (indigenous, French, Spanish, Mexican, African American, colonist, and US), wars and legislation, fluidly unfold, while meeting incredible people on both sides:
“Stories are the opposite of walls: they demand release, retelling, showing, connecting; each image chipping away at boundaries. Walls are full stops, but stories are like commas, always making possible the next clause.”
Among the varying terrain traversed: walls and more walls, unexpected road blocks and patrol officers; also a golf course (you could drive a ball across the border, though this is prohibited); a Civil War battlefield (you could camp there); the Southern-most plantation in the US; the scenic: a hand-drawn ferry, road-runner tracked desert, and breathtaking national park; then, barbed wire, bridges, and a trucking-trade thoroughfare; ghosts with guns; obscured unmarked unpaved roads; a Catholic priest and his dogs, his artwork, icons, and political cartoons; a sheriff, a chain-smoking mayor; a Tex-Mex eatery empty of customers and a B&B shuttering its doors; murderous newspaper headlines at breakfast; the kindness of the border-crossing underground.