the book of unknown americans

title: The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel

author: Cristina Henríquez

genre: Fiction, immigration, foreign language, first love

suggested by: Michalle T.

dates read: December 24th – December 25th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Arturo, Alma, and Maribel Rivera have left Mexico to immigrate to America, after Maribel is in an accident that causes brain damage.  Told by her doctors that she has a better chance of recovery in the States, they wait a year to get the papers together and finally make their way to Delaware, where Arturo was able to find an employer that will sponsor their visas.  The building they move into is full of other immigrants, all with different stories of when and why the came to the States, all of them trying to get by and achieve their American Dream.

personal thoughts: I loved the writing style; Henríquez introduces each character in their own voice and then the story progresses through different eyes, sometimes going back a little so the same scene is played from a different perspective.  The difficulty of trying to find their place in a foreign country is (I think) well conveyed in the confusion of learning a new culture, language, and all that comes with uprooting ones family to live somewhere totally new.  The heartbreak of finding that maybe the dream they are all reaching for is further than they think, and the community that is built from their common experience, all brought a richness to the story being told.  I laughed and cried, and once again appreciated the struggle I didn’t have to go through to become a citizen of this crazy, wonderful, awful, beautiful country.

favorite quotes:
“We had all of our dreams pinned on this place, but the pin was thin and delicate and it was too soon to tell whether it was stronger than it looked or whether, in the end, it wasn’t going to hold much of anything at all.” p. 32

“That first day, the words were merely sounds in the air, broken shards of glass, beautiful from a certain angle and jagged from another.” p. 58

“I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim.” p. 78

“‘Finding is for things that are lost.  You don’t need to find me, Mayor.'” p. 263

“When someone dies, it doesn’t leave a hole, and that’s the agony.” p. 275