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February Book Discussion Group

The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez

Wednesday, February 24th, 6:30-8:00

unknown

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.

“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.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

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