31 December 2010

Border Songs

Mrs. L. read Border Songs first. She read about it in a Seattle Times book review, and when she was reading it, kept telling me that it was very good. I agree. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was a "can't put it down" read, and I look forward to more from Jim Lynch.

We found it exceptionally interesting because the book is set in an area about 150 miles north of us. Blaine, WA is the town you will drive through if you take I5 north through Washington and enter Canada. It is the home of the border crossing, the Peace Arch, the symbol of Canadian-American friendship.

The friendship between our countries has fallen on hard times in recent years. In the US, we've become prey to xenophobia, and  many foreigners that enter the USA illegally do so through Canada. Furthermore, British Columbia has apparently developed quite an underground marijuana-growing industry, and a lot of this product crosses the border at or near Blaine. US citizens are less pleased with their neighbors to the north, many of whom may see us as violent, under-educated bigots bloated with too much wealth and power.

This story centers on a young man who has grown up in Blaine, a town where the Canadian border is very real, but at the same time very artificial. Brandon Vanderkool joins the US Border Patrol at the urging (and string-pulling) of his father, Norm. Brandon is no ordinary BP agent. He is severely dyslexic, stands six-foot-eight, and immediately shows a terrific talent for noticing the tiny inconsistencies in the world around him that betray smugglers and illegal border crossings.

Brandon's job brings into focus the nature of the tensions between Canadians and Americans in this small international community. The characters are beautifully drawn and believably human. The story is plotted with mastery, and we enter a world we are painfully reluctant to leave at the turning of the last page.

As if all this were not enough, Lynch has included a wonderfully sensitive portrait of the natural history of the Pacific Northwest, with especial attention to bird life. In addition, we are allowed to see nature through the eyes of a most unusual observer, Brandon Vanderkool.

If you haven't already, I urge you to treat yourself to a reading of Border Songs.

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