The Far Away Brothers by Lauren Markham

The Far Away Brothers

Lauren Markham

Lauren 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.

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The deeply reported story of identical twin brothers who escape El Salvador's violence to build new lives in California—fighting to survive, to stay, and to belong.

Growing up in rural El Salvador in the wake of the civil war, the United States was a distant fantasy to identical twins Ernesto and Raul Flores—until, at age seventeen, a deadly threat from the region’s brutal gangs forces them to flee the only home they’ve ever known. In this urgent chronicle of contemporary immigration, journalist Lauren Markham follows the Flores twins as they make their way across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of immigration authorities, and from there to their estranged older brother in Oakland, CA. Soon these unaccompanied minors are navigating 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 teenage life with only each other for support. With intimate access and breathtaking range, Markham offers an unforgettable testament to the migrant experience.


Advance Galley Reviews

The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham attempts to humanize the stories of undocumented minors against the political backdrop of US President Donald Trump announcing a war on undocumented migrants. The author does this by highlighting the efforts of teenage twins, Ernesto and Raul Flores of El Salvador, to enter the US. The title comes from the phrase, hermano lejano, faraway brother in Spanish. Hermano lejano is the Salvadorean term for a person who has crossed over into the US. The narrative of the Flores twins is interspersed with the history of the resettlement of refugees, how various administrations have dealt with the issue, the amount of money involved and the corruption that prevails, the deplorable conditions that exist. We also come to know of what those left behind in El Salvador go through. The fear of the gangs, the inability to make money to fend for themselves and their families. Theirs is a sorry lot, justifying why so many people undertake the journey El Norte. We get an idea of the hazards, physical and mental, that migrants allow themselves to be subjected to, in order to enter the US. As a reader, I felt a strong sense of anger at the twins who continued to make the wrong choices, trying to enjoy the fruits of the American Dream, even before they had earned a right to the rewards. They are unable to pay off the debt, but they don’t seem overtly worked up about it. Through the writing, the author maintained a neutral tone. There was not the faintest trace of judgement or censure on her part as she set down the facts, helping us to understand just why someone would choose to uproot themselves from their homes and countries and make the perilous journey to the Land of Opportunity that is America. Read full and detailed review at

I read this book with an open-heart and open-mind. Living in California, I have heard so many stories like the Flores Twins. Lauren Markham has done a wonderful job writing of the hard, terrorizing journey of kids who leave their countries to avoid danger, hardship and potential death and come to a country that doesn’t quit know what to do with them. As a daughter of an immigrant from Germany after World War Two, I know the harsh reality of a teenager trying to fit in, even though doing so legally. The Flores twins have to try and find their way to make the connection from illegal to becoming a citizen of the United States. I am not sure what is the right way for that to happen, however I am thankful that people like Lauren Markham exist. This book will help all those who read it to see that these teens are just like their teens, to an extent, hopefully more people will come to an understanding that kids are still kids and need to be looked after, taken care of and nurtured, no matter their legal standing.

This book was a big eye opener for me. The twins fleeing El Salvador was a life or death situation. It made me think of all of the other immigrants fleeing their countries for these same reasons. It's really a sad story. I guess my biggest problem was that once here they used very poor judgment knowing they were being given a huge opportunity to do something better. I have been for immigration control and sending back the illegal immigrants that come here and commit crimes. I still stand by that belief but then you have 2 children really that are on their own and you have to admire that they left everything behind. Sad. I was also shocked by the sheer volume of people sending little kids here on their own. I see both sides of the issue but will never understand a parent sending their 7 year old child to the US alone. A good read and again, an eye opener. It really made me think about the solution to the issue and I still just don't know. On the one hand, how can we refuse people that are fleeing for their lives. On the other, where is the line drawn? Sending little children to America by themselves when they don't know a word of English? It's definitely child endangerment in my mind. I would be interested to know how the two young men in the book have fared since that time.

I predict that the most prominent word in the reviews of this book is going to be timely. This is a story that's hard to read, but eye-opening. The Flores brothers aren't the sort of immigrants that are held up as shining examples in media coverage. They're just kinda middle-of-the-road kids. They're not great students, and they're confused by the court processes. They work hard but make some bad decisions (one particularly disastrous romance-related one). They're not in the National Guard or saving lives. They should send more money home but they're teenagers and they spend money on themselves. But they're not criminals or gang members, and they fear violence in the neighborhoods they frequent. And so, in their average way, they're an important part of the immigrant story. Lauren Markham has clearly spend a lot of time with the Flores brothers, with other immigrants in her community, and in communities affected by Latino immigration into the U.S. The story has some chapters that zoom out from the Flores story to give it a larger context, but I felt as the story developed she spent less and less time on these larger chapters, and I suppose that was the one thing I felt was lacking, in the end. She opted to stay close to the main story for the most part, and sought to inform us about what's driving the migration of people like the Flores brothers and why they risk so much to come to a country that gives every outward sign of not wanting them. So yes, it's a timely story. It's not perfect, but I'm really glad I got to read it, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

This was very eye opening. I thought it was well written. I liked how the author mixed in statistics throughout the book. It was informative but not to the point that it was just boring numbers and facts. It added to the feel of the book. It was a hard read in some spots due to what this family had to experience but it's reality for so many. So glad to have been able to read it.

Thank you to First-to-Read for this ARC in return for an honest review. This is an immigration story. The story of seventeen year old Raul and Ernesto Flores - who fled from El Salvador to Texas in 2013. It tells of the harrowing experience of life in El Salvador for these twins - with their uncle trying to kill them - and what their $7000 each bought them in the illegal trip through Mexico and into the United States. It tells of their reunion with a older illegal brother, their loss of confidence in school while trying to learn the English language. It tells of the pull of the gangster life and of young love. The ups and downs, the highs and depressions of accumulating to a life they dreamed of, but barely understood. Rent, food, school, work, sending money home to pay off their coyote fee. It relates the hardships that their family, left in El Salvador, went through trying to pay back the loan shark and keep the farm land they loved and depended on. And throughout everything else the entanglement of the judicial system, trying to become documented so they could remain in the United States. In today's climate and with the Trump Administration, this is very pertinent to our issues of the day. It contains a number of facts relating to illegal immigration. It speaks to the "wall" that Trump insists on building. To the hundreds of immigrants that die on their way to what they believe is freedom in the United States. What is left behind when someone immigrates and what is faced at the end of their journey. If nothing else is achieved by reading this novel, it should be understood that it's not what immigrants are running to, but rather what are they running from?

Given the recent political drama of DACA and Congress' decision to change policies toward protecting undocumented and alien youth, this book could not come out a better time. Markham's honest and unbiased writing tells a story that is persuasive based on fact - not her own subliminal opinion. I found myself at times angry, disappointed, annoyed and frightened for the 'far away' Flores Brothers, and supremely honored to share this journey with them, if even through a paperback book. Anyone interested in immigration, refugee and population movements, or the Latino culture should read this book!

I have studied immigration policies in the past. I was aware of some of the issues in the book, but I was really drawn in by the exceptional writing. I enjoyed how the book told the story of this family in a really narrative way that was accessible and gripping.

Far Away Brothers. An inside look at one family's attempt to make a better life for themselves and their children while being confronted with difficult, heartbreaking choices and extreme fear and uncertainty. It centers around two brothers and their escape from El Salvador as unaccompanied minors and their experiences in the U.S. ---While it was an interesting story about the brothers and those around them, I couldn’t help but feel their story could have been better told. Not that I can put my finger on exactly why, but at times it felt like there were opportunities for drama, or tension, or a greater emotional connection that were undercut by what may be a lack of story telling skill. There was a matter of fact, newspaper style to the narrative at times that took away from the impact of the conditions being described. That sounds too harsh as I write the words. It is a good book and I can only judge what is there instead of what could have been there. But it just feels like it could have been more. ---Part of me has also trouble sympathizing with boys because of the frustration I felt with how they seemed to be squandering their opportunity. The family sacrificed so much and yes the trip was harrowing and they were strangers in a strange land, but their lack of focus and maturity was frustrating. Yes they were young. But seventeen and up is not THAT young. I know this is a review of the book and not the real life character of the characters, but it made it hard to emotionally connect and root for them. ---I enjoyed the short segments between chapters as much or more then the story of the boys. Nice insight into pieces of the complex puzzle. And the Afterword may have been my favorite part of the book. An excellent summary of the complex problems and origins of those problems. ---Overall a good book and I’m glad I got the chance to hear their story.

The book The Far Away Brothers is an interesting study of the problems confronting illegal immigrants, the judicial system, the school systems, and society as a whole. Markham's take states that the US should take some responsibility to systemically change the reasons people leave their homes for a better life. El Salvador is highlighted, as the "Flores" twins escaped from El Salvador where they felt their lives were threatened daily by a family member in THE GANG of the area. The graft used to allow these kids to leave their home basically economically bankrupted the family--not to mention the emotional and nutritional deprivation they suffered due to the emigration of three of their sons (the twins and an older brother) who in ordinary circumstances would be working alongside the rest of the family to produce and sell the meager foods they grew. The twins roller coaster trip to the US and the continued roller coaster of trying to survive in the US was an interesting read. Markham interspersed the chapters about the "Flores" family with general knowledge information to explain many of the concepts she encountered. Makes the read a bit choppy, however, still easy to follow. The statistics are staggering, well documented and in the notes at the end of book for easy access, if needed. This book will not solve the illegal immigration problem--even though some thoughts on solutions are given, and is timely RIGHT NOW, it will not be so timely a few years from now.

To solve a problem one must understand what caused it and address its root causes. That is a hard thing, requiring work and effort and creative thinking. Why not just make the problem illegal? We have been trying that and it does not seem to work. "Just say no" to sex or drugs, prison sentences for drug possession, throwing a pregnant teenage daughter out of the house--none of these ever solved anything. Illegal immigration has become the issue of the day under the present administration. Migrants have been arrested, abused, sent back, and yet more come. Build a wall, we are told, that will keep them out. I doubt it. There is a reason why people leave their homeland and family, and the reasons are rarely trite. In her timely book The Far Away Brothers , Lauren Markham tells the story of the twin Flores brothers who flee El Salvador to join their undocumented migrant brother in America. We learn about their lives in El Salvador, about their families, the challenges they faced on their journey north, and the multiple difficulties of their lives in the United States. Markham, who has reported on undocumented immigration for a decade, spent two years researching for this book, plus she draws from her experience working with immigrant students at Oakland International High School. She chose to write about twins to illustrate how each immigrant has their own motivation and individual response to the experience. In the past the draw to the United States was for economic opportunity and security. Today migrants leave their homes to escape the domination and violence of the gangs who have taken over power. Last year 60,000 unaccompanied minors entered the United States, most from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador--the 'murder capital of the world'. When one of the Flores twins is targeted by their uncle's gang he decides he must leave to survive, and his twin brother joins him. The boys' family puts their livelihood at risk by offering the their land as security to raise money for transport to the border. They falsely assume the debt can be paid off quickly once the boys get jobs, but the interest blows their debt up to $20,000. The journey leaves its psychic scars; one twin has nightmares and cannot talk about what he had seen. To stay in America the boys must be in school, under their older brother's authority. Somehow they must also earn money to start paying off their debt to the coyotes. They are teenagers, too, who are finally 'free' and they don't always handle that freedom well. Readers may not always like the boys, but hopefully they will understand their fears, confusion, and motivations. The author is not afraid to offer a paragraph on American policies that have contributed to the Central American 'catastrophe', by supplying weapons and by creating free-trade deals that hurt small farmers. Then there is the legacy of large corporations that bought up land for farming, controlling resources and the economic benefits. As Markham writes, "People migrate now for the same reason they always have: survival." Investment in improving educational and economic opportunities, addressing the root causes of migration, would be a better use of federal funds than building a wall. I read Enique's Journey by Sonia Nazario about ten years ago. Here is what she had to say about The Far Away Brothers: “Powerful…Focusing primarily on one family’s struggle to survive in violence-riddled El Salvador by sending some of its members illegally to the U.S.,…[this] compellingly intimate narrative…keenly examines the plights of juveniles sent to America without adult supervision….One of the most searing books on illegal immigration since Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey.” —Kirkus I received a free ebook through First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

As you begin to read The Far Away Brothers, you are introduced to 17-year-old twins, undocumented minors, who are desperate to leave El Salvador, to find a better life in the United States. They have endured many hardships: gang cruelty and threats to their lives that force them to leave their home and family. You follow the tale as they journey to the U.S and subsequently try to acclimate themselves to the American culture. From an analytical perspective the story documents several situations in which the boys are “taught” to be helpless both in El Salvador and on their trek to America. Ultimately, they “learned” to be helpless, unsuccessful in their attempts to better control their lives. They frequently missed school, failed to learn English, and never graduated from high school. They get caught up in the American culture of purchasing clothes, phones, etc.; and also they failed to repay the debt to their family ($14,000 plus interest) for the “coyotes” to usher them across the border. In essence they learned the lessons they had been taught . . . that they could not control what happened to them. On one hand, I believe the book provides a germane examination of the experiences of these two teenagers, effectively highlighting the prevailing issues surrounding immigration today. On the other hand, the manuscript suffers from a halting switch in narration from the twins’ account to the author’s first person interaction with the boys and their situation. Moreover, the author’s infusion of “facts” and statistics interrupted the flow of the narrative and should have been confined to either the first or the last chapter of the book.

This book was eye opener and I would recommend that if you are interested in what is going on with the immigration issues in this country, that you read this book. Put yourself in the shoes of not just Ernesto or Raul "Flores", but also their older brother Wilber, Jr, or their sister, or one of the other family members not able to "head north". Very educational and a must read. With everything going on in this country, we all need to me not just more informed, but more understanding to what others are going through.

This book tells the story of 2 teen twin boys, Ernesto & Raul Flores, from El Salvador and their journey migrating to the United States. The author is a journalist who came into the boys life once they were enrolled in an Oakland, CA school for new immigrants where she worked as an administrator. This read shows the struggles facing Central American Latinos and their harrowing journey when they leave their country. I struggled a bit with the flow of the book since at times it seems to be told from the twins' point of view, but then would shift to the author's, and then would get interrupted with facts reporting on the immigrant crisis. It was also quite evident where the author lies politically and I prefer a more neutral stance since I'm not sure what the answer will be to all of the listed problems. Thanks to First to Read- Penguin Books USA for the free copy of this book.

This book was enlightening and educational. So much of the rhetoric and political disparities about immigration problems and solutions are covered here. A lot of misinformation was cleared up and the risks explained that these underage boys undertook to get to America. Overwhelming debt to pay for their trip and then danger plague the Flores twins fleeing El Salvador from gang violence. They end up at an immigration facility and later enter a high school that accepts them. Mostly, from the beginning, they are playing a losing game, that very few come out on top. The choices made are written in a realistic manner, some foolish and some out of desperation, bring the fate of the undocumented immigrants into a sympathetic light. Those very fortunate to get their green cards, have difficulty maintaining school and minimum wage jobs to actually live, pay back their debt and have a future. Revelations on the how the Wall wouldn't stop the influx until the entire socio-economic and political mess is addressed. Recommend for anyone interested in the other side of the story.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed this book. It is written from the perspective of the brothers as a first-hand experience. It includes the entire family and this is important because whatever their reasons for leaving home, they retain the relationships and commitments to their family members. This book explores the additional issues raised when immigrating to the US, particularly as a minor and illegally. I believe it is well-written and examines a segment of our population that is ignored for the most part. Propaganda would make us believe that these "illegals" get an easy ride at taxpayer expense, but this just isn't the case. These individuals are willing to risk their fear of the unknown in coming to this country because of their fear of their own reality is actually greater. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking information about immigration issues one those wanting to seek change from our current immigration policies.


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