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The Book of Unknown Americans Paperback – 5 Jun 2014

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (5 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782111190
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782111191
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 499,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"The Book of Unknown Americans is filled with the fiercest kinds of love - of a boy for a beautiful girl, of stricken parents for an injured daughter, of an immigrant community for an impossible America. In this powerful novel, Cristina Henríquez gives us unforgettable characters, whose destinies are shaped by forces - senseless, random, political - far beyond their control, and yet whose resilience yields a most profound and unexpected kind of beauty" (RUTH OZEKI author of A Tale for the Time Being)

"Cristina Henríquez's novel is a triumph not just of storytelling, but of American storytelling, a novel whose breadth and power blow open any traditional definition of 'American.' Henríquez pulls us into the lives of her characters with such mastery that we hang onto them just as fiercely as they hang onto one another, and their dreams. This passionate, powerful novel will stay with you long after you've turned the final page" (BEN FOUNTAIN author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk)

"Timely . . . powerful . . . genuinely moving . . . Henríquez's myriad gifts as a writer shine" (Michiko Kakutani New York Times)

"Throughout, the book is lit by sharp observations . . . and warmed by Henríquez's obvious affection for her characters" (Sandra Newman Guardian)

"A quiet, unassuming novel that ravels slowly, quickens without warning, spins into high drama and leaves you in thrall to its vivid characters and its author's sure hand . . . a deeply stirring story" (Washington Post)

"Timely . . . It is Maribel and Mayor's star-crossed love that lends this novel an emotional urgency, and it's the story of their families that gives us a visceral sense of the magnetic allure of America, and the gaps so many immigrants find here between expectations and reality . . . genuinely moving" (New York Times)

"Henríquez's powerful novel captures readers with the quiet beauty of her characters and their profoundly rendered experiences as immigrants in America. Following nine families who arrived in the States from South and Central America, Henríquez has crafted a novel that is inspiring, tragic, brave, and unforgettable" (Wall Street Journal)

"A sweeping and ambitious work, with the point of view shifting among a dozen different characters" (LA Times, Faces to Watch 2014)

"The Chicago writer's highly anticipated novel tells the love story of a Pananamian boy and Mexican girl-the latter of whom suffers a near-fatal accident-and the language, racial and cultural obstacles their families face in America" (Time Out, Book to Read in 2014)

"Wonderful. If most novels, or at least most good ones, are songs, then The Book of Unknown Americans is a choir. In a multiplicity of voices, each one distinct and authentic, Cristina Henríquez tells a whole community of stories, and the book that emerges is warm, wise, and unfailingly generous. It never seems to strive for profundity or grasp at poignancy, and yet page by page, as naturally as can be, it rouses the conscience and touches the heart" (Kevin Brockmeier author of The Brief History of the Dead and The Illumination)

"Here is an important story about family, community and identity, told with elegance and compassion. The Book of Unknown Americans is unforgettable" (Jami Attenberg author of The Middlesteins)

"A symphonic love story between these immigrants and an impossible America. Told in a multiplicity of voices, the novel manages that rare balance of being both unflinching and unsentimental. In doing so, it rewrites the definition of what it means to be American" (The Millions: The Great 2014 Book Preview)

"Some of the characters in The Book of Unknown Americans were born in the United States, others came as adults or were brought here from Central and South America. Their stories speak to us, involve us in their lives. They dream, meet challenges, and dare to live on hope. Sometimes they cry, but they also laugh, dance, make love. In this beautiful book, Cristina Henríquez introduces us to their vibrant lives, to heartbreaking choices, to the tender beginnings of love, and to the humanity in every individual. Unforgettable" (Esmeralda Santiago author of When I Was Puerto Rican and Conquistadora)

"Spectacular . . . highly believable and poignant" (Library Journal)

"Distinctively compassionate and original - a moving portrait of people who often pass before our eyes under a veil of invisibility. Gorgeously woven of both hope and delusion, and of the many kinds of love, this is a novel in which characters' assimilations and aspirations are as much to a new country as to something even broader: to other, finer versions of themselves. As a reader I felt assimilated too, forever altered by the extraordinary world Henríquez creates" (HEIDI JULAVITS)

"Evoking a profound sense of hope, Henríquez delivers a moving account of those who will do anything to build a future for their children - even if it means confronting the fear and alienation lurking behind the American dream" (Publisher's Weekly)

"Ambitious . . . Henríquez allows the characters to speak for themselves" (Chicago Tribune)

"Engaging, readable and poignant" (New York Journal of Books)

"Everyone who comes to the United States brings a complicated story. Arturo and Alma Rivera have emigrated from Mexico to get their brain-injured teenage daughter, Mirabel, the help she needs. As the parents adapt to a new life, they watch warily as a young neighbor befriends Mirabel. Cristina Henríquez's new novel chronicles this budding romance with tenderness, making it seem that young love makes anything possible." (The Week)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Newark, Delaware is the unspectacular setting of Cristina Henríquez’ novel The Book of Unknown Americans. A small, average, American city that could be just around the corner from where you live. A wonderful choice of setting for a novel full of immigrant tales that stand for so many real immigrant tales out there. Cristina Henríquez knows how to create setting. One of my favorite scenes happens right at the beginning, when the Riveras walk down the main road trying to find a supermarket and finally have to buy groceries at the gas station instead. Within less than a page, Ms Henríquez manages to create the perfect US-American scenery, at least as it appears to strangers.

The Book of Unknown Americans focuses on the story of Maribel and Mayor (a boy from Panama) but it is alternately told from the viewpoints of Mayor and Maribel’s mother Alma. Alma is a very powerful character. She knows and loves her daughter the way only a mother does. In addition to that, Alma is the one who suggested emigrating to the United States and now she gives the reader the chance to live through all her doubts and worries. Interspersed between Mayor and Alma’s accounts, you will find an abundance of secondary characters telling their own stories. These little biographies fit in perfectly and help to understand the secondary characters’ personalities.

Like many other novels dealing with the topic of immigration, The Book of Unknown Americans starts out with the Riveras’ arrival in the United States, but where Ms Henríquez takes it from there is somewhere a little different.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Heard alot of good things about this book but never fancied it. Eventually downloaded and have to say it is worth the hype. A detailed and engrossing storyline, focusing on the difficult lives of central characters interspersed with additional stories from other people facing an equal struggle after arriving in America. Very good.
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Format: Paperback
This is a book about Mexicans and Latin Americans who have responded to the Statue of Liberty's inscription. The story centres round an apartment block in an unremarkable Delaware town, and focuses on two families. The Riveras and their 15-year old brain-injured daughter Maribel are newly arrived and desperately hoping that an American specialist education will help her to get better. The other family has been in the US for some years and has citizenship, they have two sons one of whom, Mayor, falls in love with Maribel. Interspersed with these two stories, we hear from other residents in the block about their own experiences of coming to America.

The Mexicans throughout are cast in a benign light; the author clearly wishes to redress the balance of the bandit Mexican stereotype. Occasionally, she verges on the didactic in her eagerness to inform us of the effects of racial stereotyping yet seems to have no qualms about casting the few representatives of the host nation's white population in a poor light. But having said that, this is an interesting exploration of the immigrant experience, particularly so for the British reader for whom this book provides an unusual perspective. As such, we learn, we engage, we empathise with the characters and we wish them well. Recommended.
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