I have to admit a lot of what I read could be called fluff. ‘Train To Nowhere – Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation’ is not. I was lucky enough to attend the Montezuma All-Iowa Writer’s conference this weekend and one of the speakers was author Colleen Bradford Krantz. Colleen was a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Des Moines Register. Now she is an independent journalist who not only wrote the book but also co-produced an award-winning documentary based on the events depicted in the book.
Colleen’s talk was for writers and her task was to discuss other ways to publication. Colleen explained that when she heard the news story that is the basis for this book and documentary, it haunted her and she wasn’t able to let it go. She knew she had to write a book about it. While raising small children she pieced together enough time to research and write down what she wanted to say. Because this was a non-fiction project, she wrote a few chapters and a proposal that she sent out to agents and publishers hoping someone would offer to publish. She would then finish writing the book. Many rejections later, she was about to give up when someone thought her story would make a good documentary. She spoke with IPTV (Iowa Public Television) and they were interested but they wanted her to film the project. They said that if she could make the documentary, then they would talk. She found herself a step closer, but no promise. Because she didn’t have a lot of money to work with, she approached film students, thinking they might be willing to work with her for the experience. That didn’t work out so well either. Eventually, after receiving some grant money, she did find someone to help. She was able to travel to Texas for filming but had to pay someone else to go to Guatemala. Ms. Krantz became the co-producer as well as the writer of the documentary. After the project was completed, a publisher offered to publish the story and that was her path to publication.
No matter what your views on undocumented aliens, you will be pulled into this real life drama. It is not just a story about illegals entering the states and whether they should or shouldn’t be here, it is the story of what we will endure to reach our dreams and because of greed what we will do to each other.
It all started back in 2002, in Denison, Iowa, when they discovered a rail road car that contained 11 bodies. They were undocumented aliens who died when the smugglers lost track of them. It imprinted a gruesome picture that bothered me. How could this happen? What kept them from getting out of the railroad car? Were they murdered and left there?
Ms. Krantz succeeds in telling this human interest story through the unbiased lens of a journalist. Through her research she discovered who the victims were and where they came from. She tells about one of the victims, a young man Byron, who was trying to escape his life in Guatemala to be with his brother who lives here legally in New York. It is also about the INS officer assigned to the case. Officer Martinez is a Latino American who often found himself in an uncomfortable position. Some Americans questioned his ability to be impartial while some of the illegals he had to deal with expected him to show them leniency. He explained that he took an oath to work for his country, America, and never questioned what he needed to do. It is also the story of the smugglers and how law enforcement acted to track them down and make them pay for the murders.
Those eleven people suffered a gruesome death and the author describes in detail what really happened. Initially, I thought they must have starved to death or died from lack of water. The truth was even more startling.
If the documentary is half as good as the book, I would not be surprised that it will be the recipient of many more awards. Ms. Krantz, an accomplished journalist, tells the story with the heart of a novelist.
I was so intrigued; I started reading it as soon as I got home. I finished it quickly because it was so hard to put down. I would recommend it to everyone. Mark your calendar for September 26th. IPTV will be airing this documentary then. You can find more information at Mon, September 26, 8:59 PM on IPTV. For a trailer about the DVD check out http://www.traintonowherefilm.com/trailer.php .
I look forward to seeing more from this author.