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The Book of Unknown Americans: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 3, 2014
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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
- Publisher : Knopf; First Edition (June 3, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385350848
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385350846
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.93 x 1.1 x 8.56 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #912,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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"Because a place can do many things against you, and if it's your home or if it was your home at one time, you still love it. That's how it works."
The one bright spot is that the Riveras meet Celia and Rafael Toro, who came to the U.S. years ago to escape the destruction and violence in Panama. The Toros are more settled into their American lives, although Celia in particular longs to return home, at least for a visit. And when their teenage son, Mayor, who struggles with self-confidence in the shadow of his more athletic, popular older brother, sets eyes on Maribel for the first time, he finds himself completely in her thrall, and wants nothing more to spend time with her, despite what others perceive as her challenges.
As the relationship between the Riveras and the Toros grows stronger, it is tested—as are relationships within each family—by secrets, incorrect assumptions, fears, longing, and struggles. And a number of incidents occur which set in motion a chain of events which will affect each member of both families in vastly different ways.
Cristina Henriquez's The Book of Unknown Americans gives a powerful and moving glimpse into the immigrant experience for many Latin American people. In addition to telling the story of the Rivera and Toro families, the plot is interwoven with brief testimonials from other neighbors, each of whom came from a different Latin American country and experienced different struggles and happinesses upon arriving in America. This is a book that makes you think a little bit more about the challenges and barriers people often deal with when coming to America, even legally.
I thought this was a very captivating read, and Henriquez is an excellent storyteller. While some of her characters may seem familiar, I thought she imbued them with interesting characteristics and quirks that made them more complex. I read this book very quickly, and found it an emotionally rich story I'm still thinking about.
I'm being generous with my rating because I think there are many people who are completely removed from the Latino experience in this country and would find this book interesting and thought provoking. But it's so surface, that you're not going to get any real deep treatment on the subject.
Education aside, I just couldn't invest in the story-telling. Several aspects of the book felt like rip-offs of other books (i.e. Women of Brewster Place, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and it just didn't feel authentic to me. I didn't feel that the secondary characters were woven into the central plot well enough for me to really be interested in their backstory. Their inclusion in the book just felt like an after-thought - something to justify the title.
I think the subject matter is one that deserves an entire library section and I'll continue to seek out books that provide me more perspective, but this just didn't satisfy.
Top reviews from other countries
Alma and Arturo Rivera move to Delaware,prepared to endure sacrifice and hardship.Pinning all their hopes on their daughter's restoration from a brain trauma.
In the space of 305 pages I felt as though I actually knew the main protagonists.Such was the skill of Henriquez through her deft,descriptive and transformative words.
My only minor criticism was the testimonials.Anything they added to the book was negated by the disruption to the continuity they caused.
Full of wisdom
Addresses sociopolitical issues in a subtle yet powerful way.
Highly recommend this book.