The Book of Unknown Americans


Set in the Redwood Apartments, a low-income complex in Delaware, The Book of Unknown Americans tells the stories of its many residents.  The novel opens with Alma and Arturo Rivera's arrival from Mexico with their beautiful teenage daughter Maribel, who suffered brain damage after a tragic fall.  The Riveras become fast friends with the Toros, but when 15-year-old Mayor Toro and Maribel form a close friendship, fear and violence begins to tear their families apart.  Interspersed with their narrations are the voices of their neighbors, who hail from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, and Guatemala and form a vibrant chorus of immigrant experiences. 

“English was such a dense, tight language. So many hard letters, like miniature walls. Not open with vowels the way Spanish was. Our throats open, our mouths open, our hearts open. In English, the sounds were closed. They thudded to the floor. And yet, there was something magnificent about it. Profesora Shields explained that in English there was no usted, no tu. There was only one word — you. It applied to all people. No one more distant or more familiar. You. They. Me. I. Us. We. There were no words that changed from feminine to masculine and back again depending on the speaker. A person was from New York. Not a woman from New York, not a man from New York. Simply a person.”

Cristina Henríquez is the author of The Book of Unknown Americans; The World in Half; and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories.  Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, and The Oxford American, as well as several anthologies.  She lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Published:  2014
Length:  286 pages
Main Setting:  Delaware, United States
Secondary Setting:  Mexico