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Geraldine Brooks' 'People of the Book'

Fresh Air's book critic reviews the latest novel from the author of Nine Parts of Desire.

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Other segments from the episode on January 14, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 14, 2008: Interview with David Kirkpatrick; Interview with Julia Preston; Review of Geraldine Brooks' new book "People of the book."

Transcript

DATE January 14, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times on the wedge
Mike Huckabee's candidacy is driving between evangelical voters
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Mike Huckabee is the only candidate in the presidential race who identifies
himself as an evangelical, but according to New York Times reporter David
Kirkpatrick, instead of uniting conservative Christians, Huckabee's candidacy
is threatening to drive a wedge into the movement, potentially dividing its
best-known national leaders from part of their base and upending assumptions
that have held the right wing together for the past 30 years.

Kirkpatrick is a Washington correspondent for The Times. He traveled with the
Huckabee campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. During the 2004 presidential
campaign, he covered the Christian conservative movement. Kirkpatrick's
article headlined "Young Evangelicals Embrace Huckabee as Old Guard Balks" was
on the front page of Sunday's New York Times. I asked Kirkpatrick to describe
the way in which Huckabee is dividing the Christian conservative movement.

Mr. DAVID KIRKPATRICK: It's been interesting for a couple years now as we've
moved closer and closer to the 2008 election that the best known, the most
prominent leaders of the Christian conservative movement in politics, in
Washington have really kept their distance from Governor Huckabee. Governor
Huckabee, as you know, is a Southern Baptist minister himself and has known
these people for a good long time. And so it has been more and more puzzling
to see that they have been somewhat reticent in their embrace of the Huckabee
campaign. And several of them, several of the people who we've associated
with the movement over the last few years, have actively embraced one of the
other candidates: Pat Robertson backing Giuliani; Gary Bauer, a former
Christian conservative candidate backing Fred Thompson; and so on.

It's threatening to drive a wedge into the movement because Governor Huckabee
has very self-consciously decided that he would take his message straight to
the pews. He hasn't really bothered to court the people who we think of as
the leaders of the Christian conservative movement. He's tried to go directly
to their followers, bypassing them, and he's done it with a message which is
notably different from the direction that the Christian conservative movement
has gone since Reagan. I mean...

GROSS: Well, how his direction different?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, it's different in that, since the '70s, since the
kind of birth of the Reagan coalition, a lot of people have seen evangelical
Christians and the Christian conservative movement as sort of thoroughly
conservative, meaning limited government, low taxes, an aggressive foreign
policy, a very muscular stance towards other countries; and also opposition to
abortion, same-sex marriage and so on. And what Governor Huckabee has done is
he's taken those last two--opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage--as
well as a sort of outspoken advocacy for expression of religion in public
life, and he's married that to a more populist economic appeal. And his
record in Arkansas that shows a willingness to occasionally, now and again,
raise taxes in order to do things that would help out working people. And
what we're seeing is that that strikes a chord at the base of the Christian
conservative movement, but not so much at the top.

GROSS: You were on the road with Huckabee in Iowa and New Hampshire. How
much did he stress in his speeches the two big issues for evangelicals in the
2004 campaign, and that was, you know, banning abortion and gay marriage?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, it came up a lot, but it comes up in a delicate way.
From the moment that he announced his candidacy, he has been very clear that
he believes support for life--that is, the pro-life movement--should extend
beyond birth, from conception all the way to the grave, and he never fails to
incorporate a broader argument about human equality in his argument about
protecting a fetus. And that has, to a certain extent, distinguished him from
a lot of other Christian conservatives and sometimes even got on their nerves
because he'll say things like, `I don't think pro-life should mean just the
gestation period,' and if you're in the conventional pro-life movement, where
the focus has really been the gestation period, that might feel like a little
bit of a jab to you.

GROSS: A lot of the older evangelical leaders are leaving the stage. They've
died or they're going to be retiring soon. Do you want to run through some of
those older leaders who are--who have already gone or are on the way out?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: That's right. Huckabee has sort of arrived at a moment
when the evangelical world is already in the midst of a kind of generational
turnover. The leaders who first brought evangelicals, conservative
Christians, into politics in the 1970s and pretty much led the movement since
then are by and large dying or passing or moving on towards retirement. Jerry
Falwell is the most prominent one. Reverend Robertson is getting quite on.
Dr. James Dobson is laying the groundwork for succession at his organization,
Focus on the Family. The folks who took over the Southern Baptist Convention,
which is really a kind of mainstay of the Christian conservative movement and
turned it so decisively to the right during the 1980s, they're dying, moving
on. Dr. D. James Kennedy, another big televangelist and leader of the
movement, just passed away. So it goes on and on.

And in their place a new generation of pastors and spokesmen are coming
forward, and they're all pro-life. None of them are crazy about the idea of
same-sex marriage, but they're increasingly thinking that those issues ought
to take their place alongside a broader array of issues.

GROSS: And what's the broader array of issues?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, the one that's gotten a lot of attention is concern
for the environment. But you also hear talk about racial reconciliation,
about help for the poor, about humanitarian causes abroad, a whole package of
things. And those older issues--you know, abortion, same-sex marriage--the
core issues of personal morality that have motivated evangelical political
involvement for the past 30 years, there's not a lot of gray there. You're
either on one side or the other. But once you get into thinking, `you know
what? We've got a biblical mandate to start talking about helping the poor or
advancing racial reconciliation, etc.,' then both left and right can make
arguments.

You know, there's certainly a conservative argument that low taxes and more
and more tax cuts are going to help the poor, but there's also a liberal
argument that a more effective way to help the poor, from time to time, is
government action. So it gets to be a little bit more of a contested terrain,
and you begin to see ways that people on the left might begin to speak to
those constituencies in religious terms with a little bit more authenticity.

GROSS: Is Huckabee trying to get endorsements from the older leadership of
the conservative evangelicals?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Yes, he is. He's really doing his best. And I think--when
I've spoken to him about this, he's seemed genuinely puzzled that they haven't
rallied to his cause. Governor Huckabee has definitely tried, in his own way,
to reach out to those folks. He met with a group called the Arlington Group,
an organization that's kind of an alliance of Christian conservatives and met
with them for a while en masse. He's spoken at the conferences held by the
Family Research Council, another big Christian conservative group.

But he hasn't done nearly as much as his opponent Mitt Romney. Governor
Romney, who in a certain sense had his work cut out for him--because he, in
terms of his own faith, is a Mormon, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, and also a relative recent convert to the cause of opposing
abortion--Governor Romney has worked very hard to court those leaders. He's
sat down with all of them for hours. He's talked to them at length about his
sort of change of heart on the subject of abortion rights and why he now so
strongly opposes abortion, he says; about his fight about same-sex marriage in
Massachusetts. He's really knocked himself out to win those folks over.

GROSS: Are there Christian conservatives leaders who are uncomfortable with
Romney because they're uncomfortable with his faith? He's Mormon.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, that's a tricky question. Publicly, I think, most
people at the leadership level would say, `Look, the important thing is where
a candidates stands on our issues, and we shouldn't get too caught up in their
personal religion. You know, we don't want to be religious bigots here.'
Certainly at the grass roots, the fact that he's a Mormon takes a toll on his
support, and that's one of the sort of unquantifiable elements in this race.
It's impossible to know how much of Governor Huckabee's success in Iowa
reflects grassroots evangelicals flocking to him because he was an evangelical
running against a Mormon. So there it is.

And I would guess that, based on some of the conversations I've had, that at
the leadership level of the movement, there are some concerns as well. The
way it gets articulated when you talk to regular old church-goers is like
this. People say, `You know, he's changed his position on a number of issues,
including abortion, which makes me wonder, what's the foundation of his views?
So I look further and I see that it's not the foundation of my views. It's a
different foundation. It's a different faith, and that makes me trust him
even less.'

GROSS: Tell us about the group Huck's Army and where they fit into the
conservative Christian movement.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Huck's Army is an online organization set up by two
brothers, Alex and Brett Harris, who live in Portland, Oregon. And they're
kind of evangelical prodigies. They're 19-year-old twins who grew up in a
family really steeped in the movement, and they've been writing for a Focus on
the Family Web site, it's a very prominent Christian conservative group, and
they've just got a book out now about sort of Biblical lessons about teenagers
and they run their own Web site for Christian teens.

And a few months ago, I think they saw Governor Huckabee appearing on "The
Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and they really liked what he had to say. And
they liked what he had to say because it's not your father's conservativism,
so to speak. They liked the idea that the pro-life concerns should extend
beyond gestation and all the way to the grave and include a kind of heart for
poor people, for people suffering in other countries. And so they've set up
this Web site that connects different pro-Huckabee meet-up groups around the
country and solicits new volunteers. They say they now have 10,000
participants in different Huckabee meet-up groups and they've arranged for
state directors in 45 states with regional directors below them to try to turn
out a grassroots force to help the Huckabee campaign because Governor Huckabee
and his campaign have very little money and almost no national organization.

And I think they were caught a little bit by surprise by their own last-minute
success in the Iowa caucus and they're sort of flat-footed. Even that success
came almost unbidden, because they had very little grassroots organization on
their own and they depended largely on pastors and informal networks of home
schoolers and other church-goers in order to help get out the vote.

And so this Huck's Army is an attempt to do that, but it's also a kind of
example of the generational differences that we see in the evangelical world,
where these two 19-year-olds with their Web site have reached out to all these
other by and large young evangelicals and, to a certain extent, pro-life
Catholics around the country at the same time as their elders have been
notably reticent about supporting Governor Huckabee in his campaign.

GROSS: My guest is David Kirkpatrick, a correspondent for The New York Times
Washington bureau. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: David Kirkpatrick is my guest and he covered the Christian
conservative movement for The New York Times during the 2004 election. Now
he's a correspondent in the Washington bureau of The Times, and he's been on
the road reporting on the Huckabee campaign. And he describes the Huckabee
candidacy as threatening to drive a wedge between the Christian conservative
movement's leaders and its grass roots.

Can I read you something that Howard Fineman wrote in the January 14th edition
of Newsweek and get your reaction to it? This is about Huckabee. He wrote,
"Republicans and their secular conservative allies are distraught at the
thought of Huckabee as the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee. They couch their
fears in terms of secular issues: his spending record as governor, his
advocacy of a national sales tax, his confusion about the location of
Pakistan. Privately, however, what worries the insiders is that blue and
purple America will run shrieking from a fellow who doesn't believe in the
science of evolution but who does belive that the Bible is pretty close to
literally true."

Does that assessment ring true with what you've been hearing?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: No, it doesn't ring true with what I've been hearing for
two reasons. The first is that what I hear from conservatives, secular and
religious, really is that they are unnerved by his economic record, by his
populist rhetoric, by his kind of wailing against Wall Street and the
Washington establishment, and by his frankly conciliatory talk towards other
countries, which feels kind of soft to them. And I think those are genuine
concerns of principle.

The other reason is that Governor Huckabee has been extremely adroit in
handling questions about his support for creationism and other Christian
conservative issues in public. I think the moment in one of the earlier
Republican primary debates when he was questioned about his stated support for
creationism was frankly the best moment that creationism has had since the
Scopes trial.

He has a knack for turning those questions around so that, in that case, he
basically said, `Look, the reason I'm for creationism is because to me
evolution means we're living in a godless world. We're living in a world
where there is no reason for anything to be and everything happens only
through chaos and there's no moral law. I don't believe that. I believe
there was a first cause.' And when you press him further, he'll say, `Look,
you know, was the world created in six days? I don't know. Ask God. All I'm
saying is I believe that there is a creator and the definition of a creator is
that he created everything.' And that he has a way of publicly articulating
these views which is distinctly not scary to someone who had not grown up in
the Christian conservative tradition.

GROSS: You covered the Christian conservative movement in 2004 during the
presidential campaign, and I'm wondering what you heard Christian
conservatives say about Bush in 2004 compares to what you're hearing them say
about him now.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, in 2004 there really was an extraordinary bond
between President Bush and conservative Christian church-goers across the
country. You know, he really seemed to be a person of very authentic and
heartfelt faith who was speaking their language and was hearing their prayers.
And people rallied around him in an extraordinary way. In retrospect, it
looks like there was a tremendous kind of unanimity and cohesion in the
conservative Christian world because he was able to bring that out. He was
able to forge that bond with them. And so, for a little while, some of the
differences at the grassroots level appeared to sort of fade away. You didn't
notice them as much.

Now when you talk to people, you still hear a kind of identification with
President Bush, but it's not so much admiration anymore. Now it's almost
sympathy. You know, you hear people say--and I'm generalizing here--but in
general you hear people say, you know, `He's a good man. He's got a good
heart. I think his faith is sincere, but he's over his head,' or `but he had
some bad advice.' Or, `but he made some mistakes and now he just doesn't know
how to admit that he's wrong.' And so it's a kind of agonizing feeling for
those Christian conservatives who supported him so ardently in 2004, and
Governor Huckabee has sort of, in a way, breathed a new life into the grass
roots. He's kind of galvanized them here and there in spots around a new name
and a new cause.

GROSS: Mike Huckabee is a man who knows his way around a microphone. He did
his first broadcast at, I think, the age of 11, and delivered his first sermon
at around 15. He pastored a church at 18. What's he like on the stump?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: He is by all accounts a very gifted speaker. His critics
and his supporters all agree that, in the Republican field this year, he is
the communicator. He brings an unusual style for any candidate to the stump,
but it's an especially unusual style for somebody who comes out of the
conservative Christian tradition that he does.

On the one hand it's almost sort of campy. He occasionally gets into really
what is kind of a Christian stand-up comedy act. He jokes, you know, when I
was with him in Iowa in the days before the caucus, he launched into a long
riff about, really, voter suppression. You know, and it's all joke-joke-joke,
but he would say, `Look, you know, if you know your neighbors are going to
come out and vote for me, go out there and shovel their driveways. And be
sure to shovel the snow into your other neighbors who aren't going to go out
for me.' You know, that kind of thing. And he gets a huge laugh with that.
You know, or he'll say, you know, `People ask me, do I belive in the
resurrection? Of course I do. In Arkansas dead people vote every election.'
And he'll go into a story about people going out into the graveyards to dig up
names and take them to the polls.

And the other thing that he does that distinguishes him, certainly from most
of the candidates this year and also from most prominent Christian
conservatives, is he is an avowed rock 'n' roll fan. He likes nothing more
than a chance to bring out his bass guitar and jam with a local band on the
stump. In fact, you know, he hasn't really had much money to pay staff or
build an organization or send people out to turn out a crowd. So he mostly,
when he was traveling around New Hampshire or Iowa, would rely on these rock
'n' roll gigs that he would put together and appearances with Chuck Norris,
another conservative Christian who's decided to endorse him, to try to draw
out a crowd. At lot of Huckabee rallies, they're punctuated by cries of
`Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck,' and you really wonder, you know, how many people
are here to see Governor Huckabee and how many people are here to see Chuck
Norris.

GROSS: You've described Huckabee as having a populist streak, but what do you
mean when you use the word populist?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, as one prominent Christian conservative put it to me,
there's a kind of a melody and a harmony to Governor Huckabee's pitch, and the
melody is `I'm pro-life, I'm an evangelical Christian,' and the harmony is
`I'm one of you. I grew up a working person. I can empathize with the
concerns of working people. You should elect someone who reminds you of your
co-worker, not the guy who laid you off.' And along with that goes a kind of
an effort to rally people against the Washington establishment or Wall Street
or some elite of the party and to stress his empathy with people who are
having a hard time economically. So rhetorically he is a thorough-going
populist, and from time to time sounds not that different from John Edwards on
the Democratic side of the party.

Now, in terms of policy, it's a little bit more complicated. When he was in
Arkansas, he showed a willingness to occasionally raise taxes to try to
provide social services to working people or poor people that--or better
education or better roads--that make some people in the Republican Party
uncomfortable. On the other hand, he also has signed a pledge to that he
won't raise taxes, and the centerpiece of his domestic agenda is something
called the fair tax, which is kind of a off-the-shelf, if you will, tax idea
that's been kicking around for a decade or so that has kind of a cult
following. And it would basically replace all of our payroll and income taxes
with a flat sales tax combined with rebates, and it's very hard to find
economists who think that this is a workable idea or a good idea or at all
progressive. But he presents it out on the stump in terms that sound almost
Jeffersonian. He says you know, `We're going to tax consumption. We're going
to take the burden off of producers.' And people really go for it because in
those kinds of gauzy terms, it sounds, you know, very uplifting to the common
man.

GROSS: David Kirkpatrick, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Thanks for having me.

GROSS: David Kirkpatrick is a correspondent in the Washington bureau of The
New York Times. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Julia Preston, national immigration correspondent for
The New York Times, on the national immigration battle
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Immigration policy has become a key issue in the presidential campaign,
particularly among Republican candidates. An effort to overhaul federation
immigration law in Congress collapsed last summer, and many states and local
governments are enacting their own immigration statutes. Meanwhile, there are
huge backlogs in processing applications for citizenship among legal
immigrants. For some perspective on the issue, we turned to Julia Preston,
the national immigration correspondent for The New York Times. Before
covering immigration in the United States, Preston spent several years
reporting from Mexico. She spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Well, Julia Preston, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, of course, there was a huge
effort in Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration bill which failed
earlier this year, but apart from that effort, to what extent has the
executive branch of the government undertaken steps to deport more immigrants,
exercise greater control over them, their lives?

Ms. JULIA PRESTON: Well, this is something that I think is not well
understood. The beginning of what we could call a crackdown, particularly at
the Southern border with Mexico, didn't begin with the Bush administration.
It didn't begin just in the last few years, but it really began with the
Clinton administration. And part of what we're seeing now, this intense
concern about immigration--and specifically illegal immigration--is a
consequence of the--some of the unintended effects of that early enforcement.
In other words, we have been tightening our border, really, since the
mid-1990s, and one of the effects of that has been that, especially from
Mexico, what used to be a kind of a circular migration of people coming and
going--farm workers, seasonal labor, in factories, that kind of thing--is no
longer seasonal and cyclical. People can get in--or they did succeed in
getting in--but now they are not going home because the costs of and risks of
returning have become very high.

DAVIES: Give us an example of that, of how a family might have used the
border before that crackdown and what happens now.

Ms. PRESTON: Well, the traditional sources of migration from Mexico are
states like Michoacan, Guanajuato, Jalisco. These are states that have been
sending farm workers to the United States on a seasonal basis for generations,
and the pattern was that those workers would come for the agricultural season,
leave their families in Mexico, and make a--by their standards--a lot of
money, and then take it home and create their lives in Mexico. But the
increasing enforcement of the border has meant that that's not an option, that
process of leaving your family in Mexico and going home regularly. People
used to go home to Mexico two or three times a year.

So now they feel that they have to remain in the United States, partly also
because there was a job boom, for example, in California so that farm workers
could find work in construction and other industries during the winter, and so
they started to bring their families here. And then you have kids that are
born in the United States to immigrant families and with illegal immigrant
parents, and then they're in school and there's settlement. Many--surprising
number of immigrants, for example, in the Chicago area, have purchased houses,
even though they don't have Social Security numbers. So there's been a whole
settlement that has been an uncalculated impact of the enforcement of the
border.

DAVIES: So if I understand you, what you're saying is that in the past people
would slip back and forth--illegally, I assume, but relatively easily. But
now it's a riskier crossing, so they make one great leap with their families
and settle here?

Ms. PRESTON: Yes. That has been increasingly the pattern. Of course, what
has happened in the last year, and especially since the failure of what was
called comprehensive reform in the Senate, there has been a much escalated
effort to crack down on illegal immigration, and this past year there was a
record number of arrests of illegal immigrants. I think more than 38,000
illegal immigrants in various categories were arrested, and the Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, which is the law enforcement arm of our immigration
policy, has become the second largest federal law enforcement agency. They've
been tremendously active creating teams to hunt down what they call "fugitive
aliens"--that is, people who came across the border and were caught and let go
and came into the country anyway. It's just been an extremely active agency,
and the effect of that has really been felt very strongly in immigrant
communities.

DAVIES: It sounds as if what you're saying is the consequence of the effort
to reduce illegal immigration by tightening the border actually had the
paradoxical effect of increasing illegal immigration?

Ms. PRESTON: I wouldn't say that it increased illegal immigration. What I
would say is that it was not dissuasive for many years, and it did discourage
people from going home. So what it definitely encouraged was settlement of
immigrants, both legal and illegal, in the United States. And so really all
of the political tensions that we're seeing now, I think, arise, not so much
out of the conflict between American workers and immigrants and illegal
immigrants in the workplace--although there is some of that--but really it has
to do with a presence of so many people that are here without legal status in
our communities. So what has really riled many Americans is when you starting
to get large numbers of Spanish-speaking children in the school system and you
have to deal with that, and you have community issues, the hospital, the
emergency room. These are the flashpoints.

This is a major law-and-order issue for many people in a context where you
have American working-class people who are living in a period of great
uncertainty in their lives. And people ask the question, which is, I think, a
fair question, `Why should I, the taxpayer, be called upon to support people
who are not in the country legally?'

DAVIES: You know, you mentioned that people object to illegal immigrants and
the drain they are on resources, but you also said that it's a law-and-order
issue. Are illegal immigrants more prone to breaking the law, to committing
violent crimes?

Ms. PRESTON: No, not at all. At least, statistically they're not. But when
you think of it as a political issue, it becomes a more complex question.
Because, for example, among the population of illegal immigrants who are in
the United States are a large number of very dangerous gang members from the
Mara Salvatrucha and some of these Central American and Mexican gangs that
have extended their influence into the United States, and so this is a very
small part of the population overall, but they are very prominent in the minds
of some people who live in the communities where they're active.

The problem is that the illegal status of these immigrants makes it a very
difficult issue to sort out at a time when Americans are increasingly
concerned about the rule of law. And the other problem with the issue in
political terms in moving towards a solution is that it's been very divisive
between the states and the federal government. So you have great frustration
at the state level because there's a resource problem. The federal government
failed to enforce the border, hasn't passed any new immigration law, and yet
the states are having to deal with the hospitals in many cases and the school
systems that are facing new challenges because of the new immigration. And so
it creates a tension and a distrust between the states and the federal
government and people at the state level that is also becoming a part of this
very toxic political mix that we have now.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Julia Preston. She is The New York Times
national immigration correspondent. We'll talk more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Julia Preston. She is
a journalist for The New York Times covering the immigration issue.

Well, I wanted to talk a bit about some of the ways that this crackdown has
affected foreign nationals living in the United States. I mean, one of the
things that you have written is that relatively minor infractions can get
foreign nationals in really big trouble. How? What do you mean?

Ms. PRESTON: Well, first of all, one of the things that's happened is that
you have a population of almost 12 million people who are illegal immigrants
who are very sensitive to the law enforcement environment and are basically
retreating from community life all over the country. You've created in a very
short period of time a kind of semi-fugitive population in cities all over the
country. What do I mean by that? People who think twice every time they go
out of the house. People who don't go to parties, who are reluctant to go to
school meetings, who think twice about going to the police to report something
that they saw in the neighborhood, people who avoid the police, that really
will go out of their way to take a different route to avoid any kind of
contact with the police on the highway. And so this is one thing that really
is causing a really dramatic change, I think, in the quality of life and the
feeling of engagement in our society in immigrant communities across the
country.

One of the ways that you see that, for example, was a Pew Hispanic Center
survey that came out in December that 53 percent of the Hispanic people in the
United States feel that they or a loved one could be deported, or is facing
the risk of deportation. And that raises the other thing that's happening,
which is that because so much of this has to do with settlement and immigrant
settlement in our communities, you don't get illegal immigrants who are kind
of off in the corner. What you get is a mixed status family, so you have
three or four children who were born in the United States, you have a father
who's a legal immigrant, a mother who does not have legal papers. So the
impact when you start to crack down on illegal immigrants really radiates out
across the Hispanic community.

DAVIES: And it becomes more isolated?

Ms. PRESTON: Yes.

DAVIES: And do you think that's destructive for the communities that they
inhabit?

Ms. PRESTON: Well, it's certainly a risk. I mean, what we're talking about
is something that is acutely felt but quite short term. It would be, I think,
fanciful to say at this point that this is something that's affecting
assimilation, but the issue going forward is, is this what we want to continue
or do we want to solve the problem in a different way by finding ways to
re-incorporate these people back into our social mainstream? And, of course,
that's the great issue that is under political debate at this point.

DAVIES: You know, you've written that one of the manifestations of this
crackdown is that you will see an immigrant who gets stopped for a tail light
being out on his pickup truck ends up in an interaction with a police officer
and admitting to being an illegal immigrant which, years ago, might have gone
unprosecuted, now gets him thrown into jail and then put in the hands of the
immigration authorities. And so you have thousands of people now being in
this process for potential deportation. Can the Immigration and Customs
Enforcement folks handle all these people?

Ms. PRESTON: Well, before I address that, I just want to say I remember that
man who was deported because he had a tail light who was out. That was--I met
him in a jail in Colorado, and it was a remarkable experience because he was
not at all bitter. He said, in jail, about to be deported because of this
completely minor traffic violation, he said, `I'm just very grateful to the
United States that I had an opportunity to be here for eight years. I put my
kids through primary school. I made more money than I could ever make in my
country.' It was just a very memorable experience about the complexities of
this and, really, the extraordinary people who have been caught up in it.

Certainly one of the characteristics that is irrefutably true about the vast
majority of people who are illegal immigrants living in this country is that
they would much prefer to be legal. If there had been a legal channel, I'm
sure they would have taken it. In addition to that, the many millions of
people who are struggling their way through the legal immigration system are
just subject to interminable waits, multiple disappointments. Their papers
get lost. I mean, even the most routine case is sometimes very difficult. So
Citizenship and Immigration Services is an agency that is trying to do its job
but, for example, they don't get any money as a matter of policy from the
federal government. It's a fee-based agency, and so suddenly, in the last
year, for example, you had this enormous surge of legal immigrants who wanted
to become American citizens. This is what we want, as a nation.

DAVIES: That...

Ms. PRESTON: And yet...

DAVIES: That surge is driven by the crackdown or...

Ms. PRESTON: Yes, in part. It's partly a demographic issue because there
were many Mexicans who became eligible. They'd been legal permanent residents
for a period of time. And also there was a major fee increase that went into
effect in the middle of this year, and that had something to do with it, too.
It was the combination of this very uncertain environment created by the
political debate with the knowledge that suddenly it was going to become more
expensive. And because they feel insecure in their status, even as legal
immigrants. So, you know, once you become a citizen, nobody can take that
away from you. There're over a million people this year who have applied to
become citizens.

DAVIES: Is the federal government going to do anything to relieve that
backlog?

Ms. PRESTON: Well, they are going to have to. Currently the surge is so
great that the prospect is that all these people who have rushed to come
forward, many of whom did so because they are very keen to vote in November,
won't be able to because of bureaucratic hang-up that will prevent them from
getting their citizenship in time to register to vote. So this is really
counterproductive. We say that we want assimilation and we want people to
accept our values and join our society, and yet we make it a complete
bureaucratic nightmare for them to do so.

DAVIES: I wanted to ask you about one interesting development that has
occurred a lot during this crackdown. Children who are born in the United
States are considered citizens even if they are born to parents who are
illegal immigrants, and there have been a number of cases where sweeps capture
people who are illegal immigrants but their kids are citizens and entitled to
stay in the States. What sort of dilemmas does that present?

Ms. PRESTON: Well, very troubling ones, I think. You have, with these
increasing thousands of illegal immigrants being deported, most often these
are people who have families. And we like to think they were people who came
recently, but what you find is that these are illegal immigrants who have been
living in this country and working in this country for a decade or
more--eight, nine years--and they have one or two children who were born in
the United States. And so now we're in a situation where we are in effect
deporting substantial numbers of United States citizens overseas. I think we
haven't even begun to think about the implications of that. They will not
lose their citizenship, and so it's very likely that they may come back one
day to live in this country, and who knows what that experience might do, of
having been rejected by your own country when you were a small child. So...

DAVIES: But the kids are legally entitled to stay if someone asserts that
right on their behalf, right?

Ms. PRESTON: They're legally entitled to stay but the parents don't want to
be separated from their children, although it is a very wrenching decision
because, in many cases, the parents come thinking that their goal is to work
and make money and send that money home, but when the children are born in
this country, then they get into school and the parents see that the children
have educational opportunities here that they would never have in their home
countries, and that becomes an additional driving force and motive for many
illegal immigrant parents, and so leaving that behind is also very
heartbreaking.

DAVIES: I know that you spent a long time in Mexico covering political events
there, and I'm just wondering how that experience informs your understanding
of the immigration issue. I mean, I know this is a broad question, but is
there some fundamental insight that you get from seeing the issue south of the
border?

Ms. PRESTON: Well, just that people from Mexico have made our two countries
into a region. We have what has been essentially a unified labor market
involving people, especially from northern Mexico, and yet, even though the
possibilities for understanding and integration and cooperation have never
been greater between our two countries, in the period of time since I came
back from Mexico in 2001, things have just become more and more distant, and I
think it's really unnecessary.

For example, the border, we cannot--we will never succeed in enforcing our
border or getting the kind of control over the Southern border that we want
without the cooperation of Mexico. And Mexico has expressed rare willingness
in the past few years to really step up and play its part to enforce that
border. But they won't do it unless they get better recognition from
Washington for the effort, unless it's part of some kind of a very substantial
bilateral discussion, and instead what's happened is that in the course of the
debate, you know, Mexico has a country has just been denigrated and belittled
and it's really very distressing.

DAVIES: Well, Julia Preston, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. PRESTON: Thank you.

GROSS: Julia Preston is The New York Times national immigration
correspondent. She spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. He's senior
writer for the Philadelphia Daily News.

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Geraldine Brooks' new novel about a
conservationist--a book conservationist working on a rediscovered 15th century
edition of an ancient Hebrew text. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Maureen Corrigan on Geraldine Brooks' latest novel,
"People of the Book"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Writer Geraldine Brooks has distinguished herself in the field of historical
fiction through novels such as "Year of Wonders" about the plague in medieval
England, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "March," which takes place during the
American Civil War. In her latest novel, "People of the Book," Brooks moves
into the realm of historical suspense. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a
review.

Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: You may feel as though you've heard this review
before. I certainly feel as though I've written it before--in actuality for
the blockbuster novels "The Historian" and "The Rule of Four," and, in my
head, for the most recent movie I've seen, "National Treasure 2." You know the
general story. An old manuscript turns up containing clues to past tragedies
and cover-ups. Once these encoded secrets are cracked, they transform the
lives of the contemporary characters doing the detecting. We've traveled down
this particular plotline a lot lately, especially if you include literary
progenitors like "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Name of the Rose." And now here
we go again, with a Jewish twist on the bibliographic plot that's been mostly
mined by classicists and Christian paranoics.

Geraldine Brooks' latest novel, "People of the Book," begins when a young book
conservationist named Hanna Heath, who's based in Australia, gets an urgent
phone call in the dead of the night imploring her to come to Sarajevo to work
on a newly rediscovered 15th-century illuminated Haggadah, a Hebrew text used
during the Passover service. The Haggadah, it turns out, was rescued from
certain destruction during the shelling of Sarajevo by a Muslim museum
director who risked death to retrieve it.

How curious that at this moment in time, when so many culture critics are so
pessimistic about the future of books and reading, we have this obsessive plot
popping up again and again in popular fiction and film centering on books as
crucial, irreplaceable artifacts. That's especially true of Brooks' story,
which centers not so much on the text of the Haggadah, but on its very
bookness, its physicality. Wielding her conservator's delicate tools, Hanna
extracts detritus from the binding and pages of the Haggadah: part of an
insect's wing, salt crystals and a single white hair. She analyzes the
pigments in the illustrations, illustrations which are themselves puzzling
since ancient Jewish law forbade the making of graven images or likenesses.
And, most ominously, she discovers blood mixed in with a centuries-old wine
stain.

Intermingled with Hanna's tale, which includes forays into her love life and
her mysteriously nasty relationship with her mother, are chapters that
hopscotch backwards to the very creation of the book: Bosnia during World War
II; turn-of-the-century Vienna; Venice during the Inquisition; Spain in 1492,
when the Jews were expelled. As that heroic Muslim museum director says to
Hanna, "This book has survived the same human disaster over and over again."

Think about it. You've got a society where people tolerate difference and
everything's humming along, creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear,
this hate, this need to demonize "the other." It just sort of rears up and
smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists.
Same old, same old.

True enough. And yet that quote conveys the overall formulaic and
manipulative feel of "People of the Book." The characters and their individual
storylines here are fairly one-dimensional, all designed to dramatize the
human tragedy of intolerance and the resilience of the ideal of diversity.
The bad characters, including Hanna's mother, can't accept difference. The
good characters, including the anthropomorphic Haggadah itself, embrace the
mixing of religions, races and sexual preferences. Not a bad message,
certainly, but one that never ventures beyond received pieties.

"People of the Book" rattles along pleasantly enough. There are plenty of
plot twists and digressions into arcane trades and cultural customs. This is
the kind of novel in which you learn a lot about medieval methods of vellum
production and water torture techniques during the Inquisition. But for a
novel whose plot implicitly attests to the enduring power of books, "People of
the Book" offers a reading experience that's ultimately as flat as a Passover
matzoh cracker.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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