Thursday, July 3, 2014
The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez
This fictional story recounts the immigrant experience of a vast array of Latinos on the eastern central coast of America, in Delaware. It moves in for close-ups of two families in particular, one Panamanian and one Mexican. Both families are legal immigrants, one coming to the United States for medical care, the other for opportunity.
Christina Henriquez manages to make the experiences of these two families ring true and universal. Especially interesting was the voice of Mayor Toro, teenager and younger brother to a high school soccer star. He had a lot to live up to, and his vulnerability was everywhere apparent. His interest in a beautiful but brain-damaged young woman, Maribel, in a nearby apartment led to unforeseen and tragic consequences. The chain of events had a kind of logic to them that began in ignorance and fear, and were sustained by the well-known uncommunicativeness of teenagers.
Henriquez’ use of first-person narration, changing the ‘voice’ from one chapter to another, gave the piece immediacy and truthfulness. Often we can hear an individual thinking and speaking; the overlapping points of view give the story tension and the listener can see a crisis foreshadowed long before the conclusion is revealed. The final chapter is given finally to the father of Mexican family who reveals his pleasure in the struggle they have undergone, despite its many disappointments.
The language Henriquez uses for each voice in her narrative is distinctive and reveals cultural underpinnings. The reading of the novel by an array of narrators gives the work an authenticity to which all listeners can relate. We may not have made the same decisions, but we can understand the circumstances of arriving in a land where everything is confusing and in which language is a barrier.
I listened to the audio of this book produced by Random House Audio. I was offered this title by Random House in exchange for an honest review.
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