'Border Hacker': A Tale of Treachery, Trafficking, and Two Friends on the Run
This dramatic odyssey reveals the chaos and cruelty US immigration policies have unleashed beyond our borders
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Axel Kirschner is an undocumented Afro-latino who spent many years living as an undocumented child and teen in the metro of New York City. After a minor traffic violation while driving his son to kindergarten, Axel was deported to Guatemala, a country he swore he had not lived in since he was a baby.
While fighting his way back through Mexico on a migrant caravan, Axel met Levi Vonk, a young anthropologist and journalist from the US. That chance encounter would change both of their lives forever. And also it would inspire Vonk himself to write ‘Border Hacker: A Tale of Treachery, Trafficking, and Two Friends on the Run’ (Bold Type Books, Hachette, 2022), an adventure saga—the story of a man who would do anything to return to his family, and the friend who would do anything to help him—and a profound parable about the violence of American immigration policy told through a single, extraordinary life.
After their encounter, Levi soon discovered that Axel was no ordinary migrant. He was harboring a secret: Axel was a hacker. This secret would launch the two friends on a dangerous adventure far beyond what either of them could have imagined.
While Axel’s abilities gave him an edge in a system that denied his existence, they would also ensnare him in a tangled underground network of human traffickers, corrupt priests, and anti-government guerillas eager to exploit his talents for their own ends. And along the way, Axel’s secret only raised more questions for Levi about his past. How had Axel learned to hack? What did he want? And was Axel really who he said he was?
As Vonk says on his website, the book is the culmination of seven years of intensive journalistic and ethnographic labor, and was written with the ambitious goal of inventing a new literary subgenre: multi-narrator nonfiction.
As exposed by Kirkus reviews, “Vonk incorporates Kirschner’s perspective in italics as a running commentary on the primary narrative, allowing readers to sift through the extraordinary, often sordid details of Kirschner’s life as a quasi-criminal hacker and gauge for themselves whether he—or Vonk—is telling the whole truth.”
“The more I tried to decipher it all, the more it eluded me,” writes Vonk. “Every time I dug deeper, every time I grasped at some kind of essence or innermost kernel, it all melted into air.”
Levi Vonk is an author, photographer, and PhD candidate in medical anthropology at UC Berkeley. He writes about migration, violence, otherness, and borders.
BORDER HACKER is out in the world today!!— Levi Vonk (@VonkLevi) April 26, 2022
I've dedicated the last 7 years of my life to this story. It follows the journey of Axel, an undocumented migrant, hacker, and one of my best friends.
A 🧵 on why we hope it's different than any other nonfiction book you've ever read. pic.twitter.com/qBhopNHlvq