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'The Border Simulator' poetry book explores encounters at U.S.-Mexico border

The cover of "The Border Simulator." (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)
The cover of "The Border Simulator." (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)

The U.S.-Mexico border is hotly debated and polarized in politics, often gracing headlines. But a new book examines it in a new way: through poetry.

Gabriel Dozal is the author of “The Border Simulator.” (Patri Hadad)

“The Border Simulator” by Gabriel Dozal, translated by Natasha Tiniacos, tells stories of a brother and sister who attempt to cross the border in search of a better life. Dozal says that inspiration for the pair of siblings came from stories he’d heard of his own family members’ experiences at the border.

The poems are all written in English and Spanish, each one translating slightly differently to account for clever or figurative language. Tiniacos says that bilingual readers get a rich, multi-dimensional experience reading both versions.

Dozal — who grew up in El Paso, Texas, and has family in Juarez, Mexico — says that the general perception and polarization of the border don’t match up with his experiences. In the book, the border is represented as a simulation.

Natasha Tiniacos translated “The Border Simulator.” (Olivia Divecchia)

“I’m fascinated by the screens that have changed our lives,” Dozal says. “What we see on our screens doesn’t always match up with reality, whether that’s something in the news, whether that’s a dating site, whatever that is. That simulated part is something I was interested in.”

In his writing Dozal personifies the border, using poetic devices to reveal complex contradictions. He says that the border is hard to define, even for someone like him who’s lived near it most of his life.

“I feel like the border is part of my personhood, part of my blood,” Dozal says. “The border is this intricate machine. It’s this intricate world where language, culture, politics collide. I think it defies definition in that way.”

Book excerpt: ‘The Border Simulator’

By Gabriel Dozal, translated by Natasha Tiniacos

Excerpted from “The Border Simulator” by Gabriel Dozal. Copyright © 2023. Reprinted with the permission of Penguin Random House.


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.