I haven’t posted a book of the week in forever, but it’s only because I’ve either been out of town or was getting the kids ready for the new school year (3 schools in 2 countries). I read a ton of great books this summer and Crux by Jean Guerrero is the latest and one of my favorite memoirs. It’s a book that will stick with you for a long time, not unlike Blair Braverman’s Welcome to Goddamn Ice Cube.
Jean Guerrero grew up in San Diego with her sister and Puerto Rican-born physician mother and Mexican-born itinerant father. She was a straight A student and wanted to be perfect, but her father’s fleeting presence proved to be too much for teenage Jean to deal with, as it would with any teenager. After college graduation, she took a job as a newswire correspondent in Mexico City and started tracing her family’s roots in Mexico and across the border. She weaves her nuclear family’s story into her father’s family’s story, including border crossings that benefited the family and the US economy. (It’s my interpretation that after the border was tightened post-9/11, the rich culture of Mexico was all but cut off from Estados Unidos. We’re the ones losing out.) Crux is divided into seven parts, according to the “ancient K’iche’ Maya creation story in the Popol Vuh.”
My favorite line in the book is her description of Mexico City, the birthplace of her father: “What I had sensed from the plane I could perceive here with clarity: the city was alive. It was alive with death.”
That captures the themes of the book. Brushes with death abound in her stories, but in a way that gives strength to her life and that of her family. Her chapters about her work as an investigative reporter are thrilling, as are the family stories she uncovers.
Crux has been compared to The Glass Castle, but this story is so much deeper with Mexican folklore and the difference in how mental illness is viewed here in the US and in Mexico. Jean’s father, Papi, is diagnosed in the US as a schizophrenic, but in Mexico he is seen as a soothsayer. Guerrero believes there’s a middle ground between the two, not unlike how people in the US can believe in both science and Kabbalah.
The only thing I wondered about was when she thanked a man in the acknowledgements and mentioned she didn’t write him into the book, but he was with her in Mexico when she was writing it. So that left me wondering in which of the scenes was she really alone or was she with him and not by herself in remote areas. It doesn’t really matter and doesn’t take away from her bravery, but was just something I thought about at the end.