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The Book of Unknown Americans: A novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 546 customer reviews

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Length: 306 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2014: Cristina Henríquez’s powerful novel The Book of Unknown Americans captures readers with the quiet beauty of her characters and their profoundly wrought experiences as immigrants in America. The story takes place in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, home to nine families who arrived in the States from various South and Central American countries, each looking to better the lives of the next generation. In alternating chapters, these men and women share stories of how their adopted country has left its mark on them, for better and worse. The close bond that develops between the Rivera and Toro families drives the novel forward, particularly the relationship between their children Mayor and Maribel, as closely held secrets and feelings of guilt, love, hope, and despair are unpacked with warmth and compassion. With her cast of “unknown Americans,” Henriquez has crafted a novel that is inspiring, tragic, brave, and above all, unforgettable. --Seira Wilson

From Booklist

*Starred Review* On a cold, bewildering night, the Riveras, who have just left their happy lives in Mexico, are dropped off at a dilapidated apartment building on the western edge of Delaware. Arturo has given up his thriving construction company to labor in a dark, grimy indoor mushroom farm, while his wife, Alma, lonely and afraid, with no English and little money, worries incessantly about their beautiful 15-year-old daughter, Maribel. She has suffered a traumatic brain injury, and her parents have sacrificed everything to send her to a special school. Their building turns out to be a sanctuary for Central and Latin American immigrants, and as the Riveras’ dramatic tale unfolds, Henríquez brings their generous neighbors forward to tell the compelling stories of why and how they left Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Paraguay. As one man says, “We are the unknown Americans,” those who are feared and hated. As Maribel opens up to Mayor, the infatuated boy next-door who is relentlessly bullied by his father and his classmates, terror of the unknown becomes a tragic force. Each scene, voice, misunderstanding, and alliance is beautifully realized and brimming with feeling in the acclaimed Henríquez’s (The World in Half, 2009) compassionately imagined, gently comedic, and profoundly wrenching novel of big dreams and crushing reality, courageous love and unfathomable heartbreak. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • File Size: 2393 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 3, 2014)
  • Publication Date: June 3, 2014
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,340 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Cristina Henríquez is the author of the novel The Book of Unknown Americans, forthcoming in June 2014, as well as the novel The World in Half, and the short story collection Come Together, Fall Apart, which was a New York Times Editors' Choice selection. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, American Scholar, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she was named one of "Fiction's New Luminaries." She is also the recipient of an Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award. Henríquez lives in Illinois.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Reminiscent of Jean Kwok's "Girl in Translation", Cristina Henriquez's new novel is a powerful and compelling story of the contemporary American experience. The main characters, Alma, Arturo, and Maribel Rivera, move to Delaware in order to seek special education for teenage Maribel after she suffers a tragic accident in their hometown in Mexico. They move into an apartment building where they meet other Spanish-speaking immigrants from Venezuela to Puerto Rico to Panama, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. The families in this story struggle with issues that other Americans never think about: maintaining visa status, finding jobs, feeding their families, fearing racial profiling by the police, and trying to ward off bullies who don't accept them as Americans. The main story centers around Maribel and her friendship with Mayor, a teenage boy in her building.

I love the structure of the story, which is told mainly through the point of view of Alma and Mayor, but also from half a dozen other characters who play more of a supporting role. I found that these different voices just added to the richness of the story.

Although this book is adult literary fiction, it's also a must-read for teenagers and other young adults.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Gosh, it's hard to say anything critical about a novel that focuses on the unknown Americans -- the recent immigrants -- who come to this country with hopes and dreams, only to find that life is not the fairytale they anticipated. It's a worthy topic to read about, especially with the demonizing of immigrants through certain media. And Cristina Henriquez is a fluid writer with an easy-to-read style; she know her craft and she definitely is good at what she does.

The thing is, it just seemed a bit too YA for me. Now, there's nothing wrong with young adult literature. In fact, some of it is quite nuanced (as is this one). But I wanted something more. I wanted an immigrant story such as ones I've read by Junot Diaz, Dinaw Mengestu, or Kiran Desai, to name three. In other words, less a story and more of an explorative journey.

For what it is, this book is good. It focuses mainly on a teenager from Panama, Mayor, who falls in love with Maribel, a brain-damaged 15-year-old whose family hails from Mexico. Punctuating the forward thrust of this star-crossed tale are stories from other Latino immigrants from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and, in fact, all across Central and Latin America. My one criticism is that there is not a strong differentiation of voices.

Book reviews are personal. I would never discourage anyone from reading this book, which admittedly, is quite good. This is just one person's reaction.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Maribel's life has been cut short of the promise of her childhood. In traveling to Delaware, her parents are determined to restore all of the promise robbed by an accident one sunny day. They are not the usual people of the American dream, they had loved their life in Mexico. Just so their friends had left Panama under threat, but miss its smells and rhythms.
I love the story of Mayor who sees the person the Mirabel remains and treasures her for her quiet attention to him and his world. Their relationship sets a type of frame for the lives of the families as they attempt to be the best of unknown Americans.

This is a novel of unlovely places made dear by the attention and intent of those who live within them. I find it quiet in scope, but not slow and not picky. Shining moments are let to shine without fanfare or hyperbole. I just really liked the style of this prose. Many moments break your heart, but they are of a piece with life. I find the book a lovely and important look at a corner of the world.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the community of Latino immigrants, from places as diverse as Mexico and Panama and Puerto Rico, are the unknown Americans, the people you don't really see, because you only see the label. They have their own lives rich in culture, language, struggles, dreams, success and tragedy, but to the native-born, they are just background.

This wonderful novel tells the story of some of these invisible people, particularly the Rivera family, Arturo and Alma, and their beautiful, perfect daughter, Mirabel, who was never right after a tragic accident. The Riveras came to America so she could have special schooling, but they could never have imagined what would happen here.

The story is told through various points of view, each chapter given to a different character. Some are fully realized, others are just sketched in outline, creating the sense of a neighborhood or community within which the action takes place.

Author Cristina Henriquez does a brilliant job of telling their story. Her writing is simple, down-to-earth, lucid and engaging. The story draws you in and compels you to read on, even as the story becomes unbearably sad. No, I won't tell you what happens. You just have to read this one, and I highly recommend it. One of the best books I've read this year. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
3 Comments 33 of 36 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book's title hooked me first. I was infinitely intrigued by the promise of reading about the 'unknown' Americans. The first chapter continued to pull me in, balancing a bit of dramatic suspense, while concurrently sounding very real. The stand-alone tales were brilliant also (in fact the parts I enjoyed the most.)

As the novel continued, I started to feel a little disappointed. the main story line which began as a compelling combo of teen love, the perils of immigration, and general familial guilt angst and love, didn't gel for me. Writing down the themes makes me realize my disappointment stems from a feeling that the central plot was just a little bit forced, too many issues crammed into too few characters.

I feel the need to point out that this was just my reaction to the story and objectively I think most would enjoy the story in all its drama filled intensity. One particular strength of Henriquez is the ability to summon multiple voices to the page, which is what made the stand-alone tales so powerful, especially given the point of view is first person throughout.

This book seems destined for greatness, if not at least niche brilliance. The flaws mentioned above are hardly game-breakers considering the content was still several steps more artful then some pulp romance and the unique voices found among the pages will surely resonant with readers for many a night.
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