"The periphery of a place can tell us a great deal about its heartland. along the edge of a nation's territory, its real prejudices, fears and obsessions - but also its virtues - irrepressibly bubble up as its people confront the 'other' whom they admire, or fear, or hold in contempt, and know little about. September 11, 2001, changed the United States utterly and nothing more so than the physical reality, the perception - and the meaning - of its borders."
Derek Lundy turns sixty at the end of a year in which three good friends have died. He feels the need to do something radical, and sets out on his motorcycle - a Kawasaki KLR 650 cc single-cylinder "thumper," which he describes as "unpretentious" and also "butt-ugly." Fascinated by the United States' post-9/11 passion for security, particularly on its two international borders, he chooses to investigate.
He takes a firsthand look at both borders. The U.S.-Mexican borderlands, often disorderly and violent, operate according to their own ad hoc system of rules and conventions, and are distinct in many ways from the two countries the border divides. When security trumps trade, the economic well-being of both countries is threatened, and the upside is difficult to determine. American policy makers think the issues of drugs and illegals are ample reason to keep building fences to keep Mexicans out, even with no evidence that fences work or are anything but cruel. Mexicans' cheap labour keeps the wheels turning in the U.S. economy yet they are resented for trying to get into the country illegally (or legally). More people have died trying to cross this border than in the 9/11 attacks.
At almost 9,000 kilometres, the U.S. border with Canada is the longest in the world. The northern border divides the planet's two biggest trading partners, and that relationship demands the fast, easy flow of goods and services in both directions. Since the events of 9/11, however, the United States has slowly and steadily choked the flux of trade: "just-in-time" parts shipments are in jeopardy; trucks must wait for inspection and clearance; people must be questioned. The border is "thickening."
In prose that is compelling, impressive and at times frightening, Derek Lundy's incredible journey is illuminating enough to change minds, as great writing can sometimes do.
From the Hardcover edition.