Summary and book reviews of After the Last Border by Jessica Goudeau

After the Last Border

Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America

by Jessica Goudeau

After the Last Border by Jessica Goudeau X
After the Last Border by Jessica Goudeau
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2021, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

The story of two refugee families and their hope and resilience as they fight to survive and belong in America.

The welcoming and acceptance of immigrants and refugees has been central to America's identity for centuries--yet America has periodically turned its back at the times of greatest humanitarian need. After the Last Border is an intimate look at the lives of two women as they struggle for the twenty-first century American dream, having won the "golden ticket" to settle as refugees in Austin, Texas.

Mu Naw, a Christian from Myanmar struggling to put down roots with her family, was accepted after decades in a refugee camp at a time when America was at its most open to displaced families; and Hasna, a Muslim from Syria, agrees to relocate as a last resort for the safety of her family--only to be cruelly separated from her children by a sudden ban on refugees from Muslim countries. Writer and activist Jessica Goudeau tracks the human impacts of America's ever-shifting refugee policy as both women narrowly escape from their home countries and begin the arduous but lifesaving process of resettling in Austin, Texas--a city that would show them the best and worst of what America has to offer.

After the Last Border situates a dramatic, character-driven story within a larger history--the evolution of modern refugee resettlement in the United States, beginning with World War II and ending with current closed-door policies--revealing not just how America's changing attitudes toward refugees has influenced policies and laws, but also the profound effect on human lives.

Chapter 1
Mu Naw

Austin, Texas, USA, April 2007

Mu Naw stood on the landing above the airport baggage claim-area at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and wished she had on different shoes. She shifted the plastic International Organization for Migration bag from her left shoulder to her right and grabbed her daughter's hand. There were two escalators leading down; she and her husband, Saw Ku, had instinctively paused, not sure which one to take. People passed them on the right and left, confidently moving through space as Mu Naw never had. Mu Naw's shoes, the black rubber slide-on sandals everyone used in Mae La camp, felt dusty, undignified. She was proud of her skirt and shirt-these were her nicest clothes. They were red and handwoven in the traditional Karen style, a long straight skirt with braided fringes brushing the top of her feet, a tunic with a diamond-shaped hole she slipped her head into. She looked at her daughter Naw Wah, who was two, in her pink Karen dress, and her ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why do you think the author chose to tell this story in this particular form, writing novelistic narrative sections interspersed with history?
  2. There are many poignant scenes in the life of anyone who has gone through the intense process of resettling in a new country, and including those scenes might be necessary to fully tell their stories. Why do you think the author chose to include the scene of Mu Naw taking Pah Poe to the store? What were you thinking about while reading that scene? Did it tell you anything about Mu Naw?
  3. For Mu Naw, though her young life was marked by war, upheaval, and stagnant years as a permanently displaced person, it's in the US that she experiences the moments where she feels the most "untethered" to ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

On a storytelling level, this book is remarkable for honoring the voices of refugees. Few books are able to so clearly and empathetically show the relationship between policy and people. After the Last Border is an urgent and necessary book, especially for American readers. Powerful and compassionate, these women's stories linger in the mind and provide a greater understanding of the plight of refugees around the world...continued

Full Review (764 words).

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(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Jessica Goudeau...brings the 21st-century American immigrant experience to life anew. Her After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America is simply brilliant, both in its granular storytelling and its enormous compassion. This book should be required reading for anyone trying to understand the challenges of getting to and surviving in the United States in the Trump era, and it would make an excellent, subversive gift for those who believe that closing our borders is the best way to keep America strong.

Kirkus Reviews
In a detailed text that moves smoothly around in time, Goudeau effectively humanizes the worldwide refugee crisis while calling much-needed attention to a badly broken American immigration system. Sharp, provocative, timely reading.

Booklist
It's obvious that Goudeau was able to gain the two women's trust…their histories emerge through alternating chapters broken up by excerpts that provide social and political background about American refugee resettlement from the nineteenth century to the present day. These profiles are sympathetic and ultimately profoundly moving.

Library Journal
An excellent choice for readers seeking to understand the human effects of government immigration and refugee policy. Goudeau's sometimes heartbreaking narratives personalize the refugee crisis in ways cold news accounts cannot.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[Goudeau's] excellent interview skills and obvious empathy for her subjects make the family portraits utterly engrossing, and the history sections provide essential context. This moving and insightful dual portrait makes an impassioned case for humane immigration and refugee policy.

Reader Reviews

Peggy Langford

Looking ahead
I loved this book for many reasons. First, it's written in an engaging way, alternating by chapter the stories of two refugee families, and a broad view of immigration in the US from its beginning to the present. It's current, and gives us a clear ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Fairuz: The Voice of Lebanon

Lebanese singer Fairuz in concertFairuz is a Lebanese singer and actress, often hailed as the voice of Lebanon and the voice of hope. Having recorded over 1,500 songs and sold over 100 million records, her body of work is vast and globally admired.

Born in the Chouf region in the 1930s with the name Nuhad al-Haddad, her family moved to Beirut when she was young. It was here, singing at a school event in 1950, that she was heard by musician and teacher Mohammed Fleifel, who offered her a spot at the Lebanese Conservatory.

When prominent musician and head of the Lebanese Radio Station Halim El Roumi heard her sing, he insisted she be brought to the airwaves. In the recording studio, he gave her the name Fairuz – with various spellings ranging from Fairouz to ...

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