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The Book of Unknown Americans Paperback – 5 Jun 2014
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"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)
"Timely . . . powerful . . . genuinely moving . . . Henríquez's myriad gifts as a writer shine" (Michiko Kakutani New York Times)
"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)
"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)
Inspired by the story of her father, Cristina Henríquez has crafted a deeply moving novel about the many different voices of the immigrant experience, and one family in particular.See all Product description
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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. This book might not nearly sum up all the varying immigrant biographies out there, but it can give us a taste of what it can be like to come to a new country where most people will be prejudiced against you. The Book of Unknown Americans tells a story full of hopes and dreams and when I think of it, I’m still getting goosebumps. Cristina Henríquez wrote a novel that takes time to digest and you won’t and shouldn’t forget about it all too soon. The Book of Unknown Americans is an important book, a book that, in my opinion, should become an obligatory part of the US American high-school curriculum. Read it!
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.