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The Book of Unknown Americans
Cover of The Book of Unknown Americans
The Book of Unknown Americans
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
"A triumph of storytelling. Henríquez pulls us into the lives of her characters with such mastery that we hang on to them just as fiercely as they hang on to one another and their dreams. This...
"A triumph of storytelling. Henríquez pulls us into the lives of her characters with such mastery that we hang on to them just as fiercely as they hang on to one another and their dreams. This...
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Description-

  • "A triumph of storytelling. Henríquez pulls us into the lives of her characters with such mastery that we hang on to them just as fiercely as they hang on to 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

    A boy and a girl who fall in love. Two families whose hopes collide with destiny. An extraordinary novel that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be American.
    Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she'll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.
    When Mayor Toro, whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel in a Dollar Tree store, it is love at first sight. It's also the beginning of a friendship between the Rivera and Toro families, whose web of guilt and love and responsibility is at this novel's core.
    Woven into their stories are the testimonials of men and women who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. Their journeys and their voices will inspire you, surprise you, and break your heart.
    Suspenseful, wry and immediate, rich in spirit and humanity, The Book of Unknown Americans is a work of rare force and originality.
    Read by Yareli Arizmendi, Christine Avila, Jesse Corti, Gustavo Res, Ozzie Rodriguez, and Gabriel Romero
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    Mayor

    We heard they were from México.
    "Definitely," my mom said, staring at them through our front window as they moved in. "Look at how short they are." She let the curtain fall back in place and walked to the kitchen, wiping her hands on the dish towel slung over her shoulder.
    I looked, but all I saw was three people moving through the dark, carrying stuff from a pickup truck to unit 2D. They cut across the headlights of the truck a few times, and I made out their faces, but only long enough to see a mom, a dad, and a girl about my age.
    "So?" my dad asked when I joined him and my mom at the dinner table.
    "I couldn't really see anything," I said.
    "Do they have a car?"
    I shook my head. "The truck's just dropping them off, I think."
    My dad sawed off a piece of chicken and stuffed it in his mouth. "Do they have a lot of things?" he asked.
    "It didn't seem like it."
    "Good," my dad said. "Maybe they are like us, then."
    We heard from Quisqueya Solís that their last name was Rivera.
    "And they're legal," she reported to my mom over coffee one afternoon. "All of them have visas."
    "How do you know?" my mom asked.
    "That's what Nelia told me. She heard it from Fito. Apparently the mushroom farm is sponsoring them."
    "Of course," my mom said.
    I was in the living room, eavesdropping, even though I was supposed to be doing my geometry homework.
    "Well," my mom went on, clearing her throat, "it will be nice to have another family in the building. They'll be a good addition."
    Quisqueya took a quick look at me before turning back to my mom and hunching over her coffee mug. "Except . . . ," she said.
    My mom leaned forward. "What?"
    Quisqueya said, "The girl . . ." She looked at me again.
    My mom peered over Quisqueya's shoulder. "Mayor, are you listening to us?"
    I tried to act surprised. "Huh? Me?"
    My mom knew me too well, though. She shook her head at Quisqueya to signal that whatever Quisqueya was going to say, she'd better save it if she didn't want me to hear it.
    "Bueno, we don't need to talk about it, then," Quisqueya said. "You'll see for yourself eventually, I'm sure."
    My mom narrowed her eyes, but instead of pressing, she sat back in her chair and said loudly, "Well." And then, "More coffee?"


    We heard a lot of things, but who knew how much of it was true? It didn't take long before the details about the Riversa began to seem far- fetched. They had tried to come into the
    United States once before but had been turned back. They were only staying for a few weeks. They were working undercover for the Department of Homeland Security. They were personal friends with the governor. They were running a safe house for illegals. They had connections to a Mexican narco ring. They were loaded. They were poor. They were traveling with the circus.
    I tuned it all out after a while. School had started two weeks earlier, and even though I had told myself that this would be the year the other kids stopped picking on me, the year that I actually fi t in for once in my life, things already weren't going exactly as planned. During the first week of school, I was in the locker room, changing into my gym shorts, when Julius Olsen tucked his hands into his armpits and started flapping his arms like wings. "Bwwaak!" he said, looking at me. I...

About the Author-

  • CRISTINA HENRIQUEZ is the author of the story collection Come Together, Fall Apart, which was a New York Times Editors' Choice selection, and the novel The World in Half. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI, and The Oxford American, as well as in various anthologies.

Reviews-

  • AudioFile Magazine This captivating story of America's "simultaneously conspicuous and invisible" population is powerfully rendered by an ensemble of narrators representing voices from all over Latin America. Like families before them, the Riveras immigrate to the U.S. in search of a better life for their daughter, Maribel. Though Maribel is the catalyst, it is Alma, her mother, and Mayor, her friend, who lure listeners in during alternating chapters. Their voices shift with emotion as the narrators deftly use pitch and pacing to maintain an intimate atmosphere amid the shifting perspectives. Periodically, new voices and new accents claim a chapter to share their own immigrant experiences. Each is captured with sensitivity, lending an immediacy to the story and providing a larger context to the Riveras's experience. A.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine
  • Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Timely . . . powerful . . . genuinely moving . . . a chronicle of a beautiful Mexican teenager named Maribel Rivera and her admiring friend and neighbor, Mayor Toro. Maribel and Mayor's star-crossed love lends this novel an emotional urgency; the story of their families gives us a visceral sense of the magnetic allure of America, and the gaps so many immigrants find here between expectations and reality. In slowly revealing the back stories behind [their] arrival in America and what they have at stake in remaining here, Henríquez gives us an intimate understanding of the sense of dislocation they experience almost daily, belonging neither here nor there, caught on the margins of the past and the future. She conveys the homesickness they feel--missing not just family and friends but also the heat and light and rhythms of the places they left behind--and their awareness of the fragility of even their most ordinary dreams of safety. The story encapsulate[s] the promises and perils of the American dream . . . Henríquez's myriad gifts as a writer shine."
  • Korina Lopez, USA Today "Henríquez distills the vast sea of immigrant stories into a small apartment building community in Delaware. At the center are two star-crossed teens, Mayor and Maribel . . . Through their friendship and budding romance, Mayor becomes a hero, protecting Maribel from a dangerous boy. He starts to bring her out of her shell [and] Maribel begins to reconnect with her former self. Their doomed love is just one of the Romeo & Juliet twists in the book--Henríquez threads that theme through the relationships between parents and their children, husbands and wives, the immigrant community with their home countries and their new one . . . Through her unadorned prose, these struggles ring clear, voices rising above the din of political debate."
  • Sarah Stone, San Francisco Chronicle "Gripping . . . genuinely devastating. Henríquez has found a memorable way to open up complex topics--discrimination, love and grief in family life, and the experiences of being displaced or feeling at home. A novel that can both make you think and break your heart."
  • Marie Arana, The Washington Post "Reminiscent of the chorus of voices that made Oscar Lewis's The Children of Sanchez so memorable, and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things so profoundly humane, Henriquez's tale about coming to America is a striking original . . . It's no easy trick to pull a good story from the classic immigrant chronicle, the striver's tale. But this novel about the Riveras and their hastily cobbled world is sure to bring Henriquez many readers. It is a deeply stirring story about a budding romance between two unlikely lovers, but also a ringing paean to love in general: to the love between man and wife, parent and child, outsider and new­comer, pilgrims and promised land. With a simple, unadorned prose that rises to the level of poetry, Henríquez achieves the seemingly impossible: Without a trace of sentimentality, without an iota of self-indulgence or dogma, she tells us about coming to America. The Book of Unknown Americans leaves you in thrall to its vivid characters and its author's sure hand."
  • Ashley Hope Pérez, Texas Observer "In a TED talk titled 'The Danger of a Single Story," Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie noted that 'the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.' Henríquez's big-hearted novel challenges the 'single story' by exploring a wide range of Latino experiences. The Book of Unknown Americans is a welcome contribution to a broadening literary conversation that features immigrants from all across the Americas, and all walks of life. As Henríquez shows, theirs is a story composed of many stories."
  • The Wall Street Journal "There's an aura of benevolence in these pages that feels honestly come by, stemming in part from Mayor and Maribel's innocent romance but mostly from the steady support and encouragement among the families--the charismatic residents of the Redwood Apartments in Delaware.

Title Information+

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    Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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