“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Christina Henriquez is an intensely moving novel about immigrants, written from the perspectives of several people, all immigrants to the U.S.
Arturo, owner of a construction company, and his wife, Alma Rivera, have come to Delaware from Mexico. They fell in love in Mexico, built a home that they loved, and after years of trying, finally had a beautiful daughter, Maribel. She fulfilled all their dreams.
Then an accident causes Maribel severe brain injury. The doctors in Mexico do all they can for her and suggest that she needs to see experts who could help and perhaps cure her.
All the experts are in the U.S., so the family has no choice but to move. Arturo gets a job, the proper papers are filed and the family moves to Delaware.
Once the family settles in, 15-year-old Maribel attends a special school, where the teachers and therapists help her recover.
Arturo works picking and sorting mushrooms in a darkened warehouse, and it is a backbreaking job. But it is bearable because Maribel is being helped. The family lives in an apartment complex where they meet other Hispanic families from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The Toro family and their son, Mayor, immigrants from Panama, have lived in the same apartment complex for many years. They understand the economic instability, prejudice and the struggle of fitting in at school.
Mayor is the same age as Maribel, and for them it is love at first sight. Moving to the U.S. as a young child, Mayor is an American. Yet sometimes he does not feel American, he tells a friend.
“The truth was I didn’t know which I was. I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim. [We are the] ‘Unknown Americans,’ the ones no one ever wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us.”
“The Book of Unknown Americans” begins as a quiet, unassuming novel, then quickens without warning and moves into high drama.
There is optimism for a better future, for oneself and for one’s children. Ms. Henriquez has written sensitively with insights into the immigrant’s life and experiences.