After reading the title, I had a feeling that The Deportation of Wopper Barraza would be about someone named Wopper Barraza who, for some reason, was deported from the United States. (Clearly, astute powers of deduction were at work.) However, after the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure whether or not we would be following Wopper or if he would be a symbolic figure since the early chapters aren’t actually told from Wopper’s perspective. What soon became clear was that the narrative structure of the novel was going to be an experimental, often playful, journey through the minds of people affected by Wopper’s deportation, including, at times, Wopper, himself. What I originally thought could be a clunky narrative style quickly proved to be a delightful, multi-dimensional foray into the immigration experience from both sides of the Mexican-American border.
When Wopper, a young man in his early twenties, is deported following his fourth DUI, he finds himself in a country that he hasn’t lived in since he was a toddler. This happens to many people around the world from countless countries, not only in the US immigration system. The beauty of The Deportation of Wopper Barraza is that it tells a relatable tale without overtly trying to preach to the audience about immigration laws, illegal alien rights, or any of the other number of worthy causes applicable to the novel. It is, at its core, a novel about a boy becoming a man by being forced to leave everything he knows, which his father predicts early in Wopper’s journey:
And wouldn’t it be strange if Wopper went there to become a man, just as I had to come here? But if that’s true, I often thought, then he should never come back. He should never return to Woodland, because then he would have to live with the boy he left behind.
This is where the strength of The Deportation of Wopper Barraza lies. Montoya writes of a common situation that has gotten literary treatment many times over but his novel doesn’t lie specifically within the experience of a deported immigrant. It tells the story of communities on both sides of the border, particularly that of the small town that Wopper moves to in Mexico. Wopper grows during his experience, but he serves, successfully, as our portal into the world of small-town Mexico and diaspora while the various other narrators serve as our guides.
If there was one thing that I wished for while reading, it was that Montoya had committed more to the varied narrative voices that he presented in the novel. Each narrator was well defined, but, for a novel with so many varied characters, the narrative voice didn’t always seem to commit wholly to each character. The shift between Wopper, his ex-girlfriend, his father, and the domineering Mexican businessman was often indicated best, initially, by the plot and timeline shifts between the characters rather than their voice. This isn’t to say that the characters weren’t well developed. I felt I got to know each character well, but they still offered surprises that were welcome and seemed to fit within the world that Montoya built.