Title: The Book of Unknown Americans
Author: Cristina Henríquez
Pub Date: 2014
No. Of pages: 286
Where I got it: Amazon
Time to read: 6 days
Quick review: Warm, engaging and educational read on life as a South American, migrating to the States
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ | 5
The Book of Unknown Americans is a fictional tale of members of the Latinx community living in Delaware, USA. Legal immigrants to the country, we follow the story of two families. The Toros, narrated by their teenage son Mayor, who was raised in the USA and born to parents originally from Panama, and the new-to-town Riveras, from Mexico. We are told the story of the Riveras from the point of view of Alma, wife to Arturo and mother to Maribel. The story is interspersed with brief stories of other residents in the apartment block that the Toros and Riveras reside.
The Riveras have upped sticks and moved to Delaware, in search of a better life for Maribel. Following a freak accident, she now suffers brain damage and they are seeking a specialist education for her.
But in their search for something better, the Riveras face adversity, fear and violence. Is it really worth uprooting your life for? Is the notion of ‘better’ all that it really seems?
What did I think?
In a world where much fiction no longer seems original, I’ve started to turn to this kind of fiction more and more. It’s eye opening, refreshing and educational. It does so much to change your perspective on what it means to “not be from around here”. I came across this book thanks to some lovely bookstagrammers who have started a monthly book club – called Do The Work. The premise is to engage with diverse works and challenge privilege. Just up my street as I’m well aware of my totally unintentional and unconscious bias as a white woman living in the UK. I’m honestly horrified if I ever find out I’ve said something that’s caused upset because of my own ignorance, so anything I can do to dissipate that is well up my street.
So, the book, how did I find it? The book is beautifully written. It doesn’t feel preachy or self-indulgent. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to educate people. It’s just really honest. And that will always get under my skin.
The characters, both the two main narrators but also the stories of the other residents, were so vividly written. I wanted to know so much more about all of their stories, particularly Quisqueya.
The challenges that people who are clearly immigrants suffer day to day was a pervasive theme throughout – and it definitely taught me something new about the fear that some immigrants live with because of unfounded prejudice.