The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez, is a novel written as a series of interconnected stories, each of which could stand on its own. The book tells the story of several immigrant families from Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua and Latin American countries who end up in Delaware. The stories are told in first person and are narrated by different members of the same family. We learn their backstory, what brought them to the United States, and in some cases a little about how they got here, as well as getting a vivid picture of what life here is like for them, living as immigrants in a country with a culture and language so distinct from their own and one in which immigrants are not always openly welcomed.
The families all live in the same apartment complex, owned by another immigrant, and their lives are at once interconnected and often isolated, each family with its own challenges and obstacles to overcome. The core of the stories involve a family who comes to the US to provide educational opportunities to their daughter, who was brain damaged in an accident, and her relationship with the son of another tenant. At the same time, Henriquez interweaves this story with that of the other tenants, who face language barriers, economic hardship, and discrimination, among other challenges.
Hernandez’s writing draws you into the lives of her characters and you feel their disappointments and frustration and their small moments of joy as well. When I finished the book, I was left hoping there would be a second book so I could continue following their stories.
Written by: Rachel L.