Valeria Luiselli started working as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking children in the New York City Immigration Court in March 2015. Tasked with conducting intake interviews to unaccompanied child migrants, her job seemed on the surface to simply follow the 40 questions on the intake questionnaire, one by one, and translate the answers. But she soon realized that she was providing triage to a humanitarian emergency. Not the emergency that detonated at the border with the surge of minors arriving, but the quieter, bureaucratic, legal emergency sparked by the federal government’s decision to slash the amount of time that unaccompanied minors from Central America had to find a lawyer and prepare their case from twelve months to twenty-one days. What child can find a lawyer in twenty-one days? The priority juvenile docket was, in sum, the coldest, cruelest possible response to the arrival of refugee children. It was a backdoor escape route from the reality suddenly knocking at the country’s front door.
From this experience came Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, “A book of staggering emotional power” (Harper’s) that takes those 40 questions and turns them into the framework for a story that subtly interconnects the fates of the children whose answers she collects with the history of US-Central American relations over the past 40 years. Since its publication in 2017, the crisis at the border (whether you view it as humanitarian or political) has only become more glaringly prominent. Luiselli’s narrative offers a way to bear witness to it with the nuanced eye of a writer and the soul of an activist.
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Korea, South Africa and India. An acclaimed writer of both fiction and nonfiction, she is the author of “Faces in the Crowd,” “Sidewalks,” “The Story of My Teeth,” “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions,” and, most recently, “Lost Children Archive.” She is the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes and an American Book Award, and has twice been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kirkus Prize. She has been a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree and the recipient of a Bearing Witness Fellowship from the Art for Justice Fund. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Granta, and McSweeney's, among other publications, and has been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in New York City.