Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

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“In the tradition of parent-child memoirs, Enrique’s Journey meets The Glass Castle, here is the haunting story of a daughter’s quest to understand her father, to save him from his own demons and to save herself from following his self-destructive path. Marco Antonio was born in Mexico but as a teenager migrated with his large family north to California, where he met Jean’s mother, a young Puerto Rican woman just out of med school. Marco was a self-taught genius at fixing and creating things–including a mythology about himself as a shaman, a dreamcaster, and an animal whisperer, rather than the failed father, husband, and son he feared he was. Before long Marco goes on the run from his family and responsibilities–to Asia, to Europe, and eventually back to Mexico–with long crack and whiskey binges, suffering from what he claimed were CIA mind control experiments. As soon as she’s old enough, Jean follows.

Using her skills as a journalist, and her lifelong obsessions with the fuzzy lines between truth and fantasy, Jean searches for explanations for her father’s behavior other than schizophrenia, the diagnosis her mother whispered to Jean when she was still a child. She takes his wildest claims seriously and investigates them. She interviews cousins and grandparents and discovers a chain of fabulists and mystics, going back to her great great grandmother, a clairvoyant curandera who was paid to summon forth voices and visions from the afterlife. She begins mirroring her father’s self-destructive behavior in her own wild experiements with sex and drugs and her flirtations with death in jungles and the middle of the sea. She risks everything in her quest to understand and redeem her father from the underworld of his obsessions and delusions and self-destruction — to bring him back to the world of the living.

This is the story of a child’s search for an elusive parent–through exploration, analysis, and embodiment–but also a penetrating journey into the idea of borders and crossings: between sanity and madness, cultures and languages, scientific worlds and mystical, spiritual impulses, life and death. Crux is both a riveting adventure story driven by desire and a profoundly original exploration of the mysteries of our world, our most intimate relationships, and ourselves.”

-Synopsis from Goodreads


A few years ago I had the opportunity to see the author of Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir, Jean Guerrero, speak at the Tucson Festival of Books. I was struck by her story and intrigued to learn more about her and her work as a reporter.

As you may have guessed from the synopsis, this book deals with a lot of tough topics. It is normally not something that I would read only because I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction. However, I will go out of my comfort zone when interest strikes and that was the case with Crux.

I was captivated from the beginning by the lyrical writing style and the way she wrote about her memories in an unstructured way. Her childhood was not conventional, and I admire how committed she was to writing about it and tracing her family history. This is a family with a rich history that crosses borders and overlaps with revolutions and pivotal moments in history; the way these events are woven together is nothing short of captivating.

Interspersed are stories from her own childhood as she struggled to make sense of her father’s behaviors and all of the confusing things he would tell her. She believed strongly that everything he said meant something, that he wasn’t babbling nonsense, but speaking some sort of truth. She then tried to discover that truth on her own, and it was something she never stopped seeking; the truths about the universe, about herself, and about her father.

“I felt the whole universe rush in through every pore of my body, causing me to swell and expand at the speed of light. I felt the heat of stars flooding my veins, moons bombing my eye sockets, the pink fog of nebulae exploding in my lungs and black holes blowing my heart to smithereens. And then, suddenly, I was infinite.”

-from Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir

I finished the book a few days ago and am still finding myself periodically thinking about where the story ended. If you have read the book you probably know what I am talking about. Guerrero’s journey is not over and I wonder if she will write a second memoir one day, about what happened afterward.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you are looking for a powerful, impactful read with stunning writing and a story that will leave you breathless.

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