Tell Me How It Ends

Tell Me How It Ends Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Valeria Luiselli's Tell Me How It Ends. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City in 1983, though her family moved to the United States two years later. Shortly after her father earned a Ph.D. in Wisconsin, the family moved to Costa Rica, followed by South Korea and South Africa. Luiselli lived there until she moved back to Mexico City at the age of sixteen, though she soon left to complete high school in India before returning once again to attend the National Autonomous University of Mexico. After majoring in philosophy, she moved to New York City to work as an intern at the United Nations. During this time, she also studied Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where she earned her doctorate degree. She published her first book in 2012, a collection of essays written in Spanish called Papeles Falsos. In 2013, she published the novel La historia de mis dientes, which appeared in English two years later as The Story of My Teeth. She has worked extensively with undocumented child migrants in the United States, an experience that informed her book-length essay Tell Me How It Ends, which was published in 2017, as well as her novel Lost Children Archive, published in 2019. She lives in New York City, has a daughter and a stepson, and is married to the novelist Álvaro Enrigue.
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Historical Context of Tell Me How It Ends

Throughout the 1980s, El Salvador underwent a bloody civil war, in which the militarized government fought a number of left-wing guerilla groups, all of whom banded together as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. The war began in the final months of 1979, when there was a coup to remove the president from office. Because the United States didn’t want El Salvador to become a Communist nation, it backed the military-led government, supplying it with funding and weapons to control left-wing opposition groups. As a result, the violent government drove out approximately one-fifth of the entire population. Many of those who fled El Salvador migrated to the United States, settling in cities like Los Angeles, where they encountered gangs such as the Bloods, the Crips, the Nazi Lowriders, and the Aryan Brotherhood. Threatened by the presence of these gangs, Salvadoran refugees formed MS-13, hoping to protect themselves amidst the violent ganglands of urban America in the 1980s. Because many of the members of MS-13 had been guerilla fighters in El Salvador, the gang quickly became violent. By the 1990s, when the United States carried out sweeping deportations of Central American immigrants, MS-13 was a notoriously merciless organization, which spread to countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with the steady rise of deportations. Luiselli points to this history as a way of illustrating the role the United States played in both creating MS-13 and helping it spread throughout the Americas.

Other Books Related to Tell Me How It Ends

Because Tell Me How It Ends is about migration and the immigrant experience in the United States, it shares certain similarities with Enrique’s Journey, a nonfiction book by Sonia Nazario about a seventeen-year-old boy’s journey from Honduras to the United States to reunite with his mother. In the same regard, Tell Me How It Ends explores similar thematic material as Óscar Martinez’s A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America, as both titles examine the brutal history of violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Key Facts about Tell Me How It Ends
  • Full Title: Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions
  • When Written: 2015
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: April 4, 2017
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Setting: New York City, Arizona
  • Climax: Recognizing how easy it will be to defend him against deportation, a team of lawyers agrees to represent Manu López in immigration court.
  • Antagonist: The United States immigration system, as well as the country’s refusal to admit its partial responsibility for the immigration crisis
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Tell Me How It Ends

Political Messaging. Valeria Luiselli wrote Tell Me How It Ends while also working on her novel about undocumented minors, Lost Children Archive. She has said that firmly setting forth her political stances in Tell Me How It Ends enabled her to write Lost Children Archive in a more open-ended manner, since the former gave her a chance to voice her beliefs so strongly.

Juicy. Luiselli wrote her second novel, The Story of My Teeth, in a serialized format, composing one chapter at a time and sending each new installment to a Mexican juice factory, where the workers read them aloud and voiced their thoughts, which she would then take into account as she composed the next section.