The publishers of "La Frontera" apparently could not decide if they wanted the book to be a serious and thorough study of the U.S.-Mexico border, or a coffeetable book about the often picturesque borderlands and colorful North Americans and Mexicans who live there. That is unfortunate, because in either case, the book would have been a useful contribution to the growing body of literature about the nation's southern border. Instead, it falls short on both counts.
While author Alan Weisman's musings about life along the border are often interesting and well written, they are far from profound and offer no solutions to the many complex issues (illegal immigration, drug smuggling and environmental pollution are only the most obvious) that have increased the political tensions between Mexico and the United States in recent years. In fairness to Weisman, a free-lance writer who teaches border studies at Arizona's Prescott College, the format of the book limited any chance he had to write long or complex essays about the challenges facing the borderlands.
Still, the black-and-white photographs by Jay Dusard, a photography teacher in Prescott, are magnificent. His landscapes in particular are reminiscent (at least to my unpracticed eye) of the classic photographs taken by Ansel Adams. But if this is a coffeetable book, why aren't there more of Dusard's pictures? Only 56 photographic plates are scattered throughout the 200-odd pages of large-type text, and not all the people and places Dusard and Weisman visited during a year of traveling the length of the border--from Brownsville, Tex., and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on the Gulf of Mexico, to the Pacific beaches between San Diego and Tijuana--are illustrated. This only heightens the frustration of a reader who, realizing he will not learn anything new about the borderlands, wishes he could at least see more of the people and places Weisman and Dusard visited on their enviable journey.