Saturday, November 05, 2016

Cristina Henríguez's The Book of Unknown Americans

I read Cristina Henríquez's The Book of Unknown Americans (2014), a very fitting novel to counter the anti-immigrant Trump message we're bombarded with now. It is the story of immigrants--the unknown Americans--from a variety of Latin American countries who live in an apartment complex in Newark, Delaware. It centers in particular on two teens: Maribel, whose parents brought her to the U.S. after she sustained a head injury in Mexico, and Mayor, a teenage boy who lives near her. Their relationship drives the narrative.

Each chapter is in the first person, switching between different characters. I liked the second half of the book more than the first, as it took a while for the narrative to gain traction. Once it did, it was both sweet and melancholy. There is one character, a white boy who is troubled (e.g. he tells the principal he hasn't seen his father in three days and has no idea where he is) and bullying, whose voice we never hear. That was disappointing, because it perhaps could've provided a sense of why people like Trump resonate with people, a fear and hate that would contrast with the immigrants' own experiences.

Overall, though, it's a good read.


Alfredo 5:53 PM  

Just curious did the two main characters arrive with know when about 45 years ago I arrived in NY with my family from DR.....took us about a two years to get visas and join my father....who came first to Canada with parents just thought it was the right thing to do....;)

Greg Weeks 8:07 AM  

yes, they came legally. I am guessing that was a conscious decision to emphasize how their different language and culture had nothing to do with their legal right to be here.

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