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Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing Hardcover – October 15, 2009

3.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The writers in Becoming Americans have the miraculous gift of fresh eyes, able to see America for the first time, and to describe the new world they see. Their stories are our treasured legacy." - Maxine Hong Kingston --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and the author or editor of numerous books.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 850 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America; First Printing edition (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598530518
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598530513
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In the most iconic of American poems, "The New Colossus", Emma Lazarus wrote about the meaning of the then-new Statue of Liberty:

"'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'"

Lazarus's poem frames "Becoming Americans", a new anthology from the Library of America which manages both to examine and to celebrate the American immigrant experience. The volume is edited by Ilan Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. Stavans is himself an immigrant of unusual background. Born in Mexico City in 1961 to a Jewish family of immigrants from East Europe, Stavans immigrated to the United States in 1961. He thus is able to write of his own American experience from a unique Jewish-Latino perspective. Stavans wrote the introduction to this volume and also contributed a selection from his autobiography which describes his experiences as a Mexican Jew. In a revealing interview he gave to the Library of America upon the publication of this volume, Stavans described "Becoming Americans" as "my love letter to the United States, a tolerant, warm-hearted country that has been extraordinarily generous to me as an immigrant. Among other things, the country has allowed me to explore my talents to the limit."

The book consists of nearly 700 pages of text together with a chronology of immigration to America beginning with the settlement at Jamestown in 1607. The anthology includes selections from 85 writers describing their varied experiences in coming to the United States from 45 countries.
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An anthology of writing about immigration, including the involuntary kind, slavery and deportation. A phenomenology of immigration. Texts from memoirs, letters, journals, fiction, or poems. In many cases, the texts are frustratingly short, but briefness is the price of a broad scope. Many immigrants had to overcome hardships...some didn't. Many came for `bread', others for politics or survival. The focus is much more on arriving than on leaving. That does lead to some uniformity. A few texts stand out for their writing, are funny or otherwise interesting.

The collection starts with a letter home to England, 400 years ago, written by an indentured servant in Virginia, to his parents.
Then a poem by a Puritan.
A poem by or about a deported thief (Australia became the destination of deportation only after American independence).
The story of a young West African aristocrat who was enslaved 'by mistake' in 1730 and managed to get set free out of Maryland via England within 2 years. This is told by the man's lawyer. (As a plebeian, I find it rather unsettling that we see this kind of class privilege even in slavery.) A poem by the slave girl who became a poet.

A series of Europeans, some quite miserable, most on the search for better prospects. Some didn't stay, went back because their hopes were not realized or their reason to come had gone. Mostly unknown people, and some fictional characters, but also some outstanding ones.
The French birder who comes to the US after the revolution in Haiti.
The librettist of Don Giovanni, Columbia U's first professor of Italian.
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I'm still reading this book so cannot give a deep review but what I've read so far is very interesting. One thing I don't like is just when I'm getting into someone's story the excerpt ends and I am left wishing I could read more The book is a good illustration of what some of our forebears had to deal with when they came to America, the land of Golden Streets and their frustrations when they arrived without much money, not speaking the language and needing to get a job to support themselves. Will continue to read.
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By Klohovo on January 30, 2016
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I like how this book looks and its full of very meaningful stories. However, I gave it only 3 stars because it came with missing pages which was so embarrassing in class when we had to read aloud. And it wasn't even like someone ripped them out. They were just not included in the binding. How strange.
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Format: Hardcover
This was a gift for my mother, who tends to gravitate towards the television these days rather than reading all that much. I heard about this book on NPR's website, and it sounded like something she would enjoy. She likes history but enjoys it more when it is illustrated by personal narrative (she completed the family genealogy, and thoroughly enjoyed finding personal links to the past). When I asked her about the book, she was already several chapters in after having it in hand for only 2 days! Of course, most (all?) of the early writings are by men, due to the educational practices of centuries past.
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