Skip to main content

‘Enrique’s Journey’ chosen for Go Big Read program

June 8, 2011 By Jenny Price

University of Wisconsin–Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin has selected “Enrique’s Journey” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario as the book for the third year of Go Big Read, the university’s common reading program.

Cover of Enrique’s Journey

How to access the book

Martin chose the book from a short list compiled by a review committee from nearly 198 titles nominated.

The program engages students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members in a shared, academically focused reading experience. Last year, Martin’s selection was “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot.

“Go Big Read continues to fulfill its mission by inspiring people across our campus and the community to come together and talk about the most important issues and problems of our time,” Martin says. “‘Enrique’s Journey’ is a powerful and personal story that will spark dynamic conversations in and out of the classroom.”

Enrique was 5 years old when his mother left him behind in Honduras to find work in the United States. She sent money to pay for his food and education, but he wanted nothing more than her return. After 11 years apart, Enrique headed north to find her as one of thousands of immigrant children who make the same journey every year by clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains.

Author Isabel Allende calls the book “a 21st century ‘Odyssey.'”

“As our society debates how we should react to immigrants, both legal and illegal, ‘Enrique’s Journey’ shines a light on the individuals who risk their lives and leave their families in search of a better life,” says Charles Snowdon, co-chair of the review committee and a professor of psychology. “The book raises complex legal, social psychological and cultural issues about immigration while being a fascinating read.”

The trip aboard the “Train of Death” requires Enrique to dodge gangsters, bandits, corrupt police and immigration authorities. But he pushes forward, fueled by hope, courage, wit and the kindness of people he meets along the way. Nazario retraced Enrique’s journey, and her book takes readers right on top of the train with him for the harrowing ride to the United States, where he finds life is not quite what he imagined it would be.

The book has also moved its readers to reach out to help others. For example, students in California raised money to provide micro-loans for women in Guatemala to create jobs that allow them to stay with their children and lift themselves out of staggering poverty.

“Most Americans have at least one and often many immigration stories in their families,” says Ken Frazier, director of UW–Madison Libraries. “My hope is that the book will inspire deeper conversations about the immigration experience in their families and in American society generally.”

Planning is under way for how students and faculty will use the book in classrooms and for special events associated “Enrique’s Journey.” Nazario, who was born in Madison, is scheduled to visit campus during the fall semester, when she will give a talk and sign books. Copies of “Enrique’s Journey” will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students and to students using the books in their classes.

To learn more about the ongoing Go Big Read program, plans for this fall and to sign up for email updates, visit