Winner, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction, and City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize
Shortlisted, Dolman Travel Book Award
Longlisted, Alberta Readers' Choice Award, BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, and Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
In this ambitious blend of travel and reportage, Marcello Di Cintio travels to the world's most disputed edges to meet the people who live alongside the razor wire and answer the question: What does it mean to live against the walls? Di Cintio shares tea with Saharan refugees on the wrong side of Morocco's desert wall. He meets with illegal Punjabi migrants who have circumvented the fencing around the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. He visits fenced-in villages in northeast India, walks Arizona's migrant trails, and travels to Palestinian villages to witness the protests against Israel's security barrier.
From Native American reservations on the US-Mexico border and the "Great Wall of Montreal" to Cyprus's divided capital and the Peace Lines of Belfast, Di Cintio seeks to understand what these structures say about those who build them and how they influence the cultures that they surround. Some walls define "us" from "them" with medieval clarity. Some walls encourage fear or feed hate. Others kill. And every wall inspires its own subversion, whether by the infiltrators who dare to go over, under or around them, or by the artists who transform them.
"Most people, on both sides, now ignore the fence. But not Di Cintio. And that's his strength as a writer: he observes and reports tirelessly, then makes powerful and poetic connections between all that he has seen and heard. Walls is a moving and extremely engaging book, a reminder of 'the constant thrum of hope' amid so many man-made obstacles."
"Honest, compassionate, and expertly written ... Marcello Di Cintio's new book is exactly the kind of non-fiction I adore most. It's ambitious, intensely personal, and uses one basic idea as the jump-off point for tackling all kinds of fascinating issues along the periphery. ... Walls is the kind of non-fiction you might call eye-opening, since it features Di Cintio travelling to all kinds of barricades around the world and interviewing the disparate people who live in their shadows. But he actually engages many more parts of the body than that — the brain and the heart both come to mind."
"When Ronald Reagan exhorted Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, it was not only a political act. As Marcello di Cintio discovers, walls divide far more than nations. In this beautifully written reportage, the author brings readers the personal stories — gripping, haunting, humorous, and inspiring — of people living against walls around the world, from the 'peaceline' of Belfast to l'Acadie fence of Montreal."
"At the heart of Di Cintio's book lies the practice of journalism, of finding people on both sides of the barriers, be they the nomadic Saharawi, African and Punjabi refugees in Ceuti or the gun-toting but surprisingly anti-fence redneck in Arizona, willing and often eager to share their experiences and lives. ... Di Cintio's willingness to go beyond mere reportage, to ponder his role in the story lifts it to an even higher level."
"The book that results, packed with evocative stories of the folly of division, basks a little in (Canadian?) feelgood humanism. Some walls' foundations run deep. But as a colourful, compassionate tour of hot spots where 'nations stake territory in bald concrete', this beating of the bounds can't be topped."
"What is memorable in Walls is its deep pessimism. Whenever a dismantlement appears to be imminent, as in Nicosia, inertia and cynicism invariably win out over the let's-all-hold-hands anti-politics of the UN and the NGOs. In Belfast, Di Cintio notes the removal of the 'peace line' that once divided a park in Ardoyne but considers the underground wall that runs between the Catholic and Protestant sections of the Belfast City Cemetery to be 'a more relevant symbol than the image of little girls frolicking through a gate that opens every once in a while.'. The constructions of brick, concrete and steel that divide people are not only enduring but thriving."
"Di Cintio is best when considering the absurdities and oddities of border culture. ... Di Cintio is eloquent about the psychology of barriers. ... His language can be poetic and his perception acute."
"An illuminating, brilliantly composed book."
"Di Cintio's book is a travel book that takes its readers through many countries and gives them a sense of what it is like to live on one side of a wall and to experience the fragmentation and destruction of the landscape of one's country. He writes with passion and empathy for the victims of those monstrous walls that take no account of how they affect the human beings living next to them. ... if, in revealing the folly of building walls, his book, which won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, helps to stop the spread of this affliction, it will have served a great purpose."
"What's it like having a physically massive, politically symbolic barrier for a neighbour? That's the question posed by this deftly written travelogue, which drops into settlements in Israel, Northern Ireland, Mexico and more to paint stark portraits of life beside some of the world's most notorious reinforced barriers."
"A collection of interrelated vignettes full of dense descriptions and fascinating characters that give the reader a true sense of place. ... Di Cintio's ethnographic method is the perfect approach to his subject. He is at the centre of his story, but this is far from gonzo journalism; instead, it is a deeply humane, honest, and even cautious account by an outsider who seeks as much as possible to understand local contexts. It is a story told from below that shows how everyday lives are affected by big-picture politics, and a challenge to our historical urge to construct order out of steel and stone rather than through dialogue."
"Walls is a book that follows its thread, that unpompously accepts the haplessness of being an outsider, and that is justly impatient with communities that hide behind a wall rather than ask difficult questions."
"A beautifully written reportage, part travel, part history, part politics, full of acute observations and analysis. Recognizing that, as an outsider wielding a Canadian passport, he is in the enviable position of being able to pass through walls, Di Cintio makes meaningful connections with people on the ground to understand local contexts. The results are personal stories of living with walls, of subverting them and of defeating them, at once gripping, haunting, humorous and inspiring."
"Di Cintio's journeys successfully articulate the diminishing, humiliating effect of the walls on those who have no choice but to push against them."
"He shows how walls are counterproductive; they cast 'historical hatreds in concrete' or cause embattled communities to turn further in on themselves. ... If Di Cintio's book offers hope, it is rarely in expectation that his walls will be dismantled like Berlin's, but in the imaginative way these divisions have been subverted by art. Di Cintio concludes ... with the welcome conviction that the human desire to bring walls down is as strong as the instinct to build them up."
"Di Cintio brings a fair-minded, maple-baked sensitivity to the madness of dividing lines and barbed wire, but the effect is all the more saddening. If someone as uncholeric and sweet-tempered as Di Cintio found more despair than hope, it's not a good sign. Still, he writes well, unpicking some of the world's trouble spots in spare and lucid prose."
"Di Cintio is very good — honest, sharp, nuanced and vivid ... the descriptions of landscape and townscape are acute ... The historical asides are unobtrusive and erudite."
"What he does do, bravely and forcefully, and with impressive commitment, is to bear witness to the pain and suffering of people who live in the shadow of separation barriers."
"This is a remarkable book, and Di Cintio is a thoroughly engaged — and engaging — traveller and wordsmith. ... The walls Di Cintio visits show no signs of coming down, but the underlying human spirit — the small, defiant hopes and everyday heroism of the people faced with these barriers, and the communities along them that refuse to be cleaved — is, in its own strange way, uplifting."
"A perfect mix of fact and vivid first-person narrative leaves you feeling that you've witnessed death-defying acts of bravery, and fallen ill with Wall Disease. ... Walls is a humanizing history of the world's barricades that we need now more than ever."
"Di Cintio leads a whirlwind tour of the world, looking at the unlikely places where human mania for erecting barriers has shown itself. Solid journalism that takes readers into cheerless, contested places that they probably would not wish to see for themselves. An eye-opener."
"Walls is mostly a litany of tears, anger and woe, leavened by bitterly absurdist irony."
"Walls: Travels Along the Barricades offers unique perspectives on some of the most divided regions of the planet while forcing readers to ask the essential question, what side of the wall would they want to be on."