THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS

Cristina Henríquez

Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole

lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteenyear-

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.

more …

Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole

lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteenyear-

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 that offers a

resonant new definition of what it means to be an American.

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  • Vintage
  • Paperback
  • March 2015
  • 304 Pages
  • 9780345806406

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About Cristina Henríquez

Cristina Henríquez is the author of the story

collection Come Together, Fall Apart, which was a New York Times Editors’

Choice selection, and the novel The World in Half. Her work has appeared

in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Scholar, Glimmer Train, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI, and Oxford

American, as well as in various anthologies. She lives in Illinois.

Praise

“Vivid . . . . Striking. . . . A ringing paean to love in general: to the love

between man and wife, parent and child, outsider and newcomer, pilgrims

and promised land.”—The Washington Post

“Powerful. . . . Moving. . . . [Henríquez has] myriad gifts as a writer.”—The New York Times

Discussion Questions

How does Alma’s perspective in the novel’s first chapter

illustrate her and her family’s hopes for their new life in

America? Take another look at her statement after the

trip to the gas station: “The three of us started toward

the road, doubling back in the direction from which

we had come, heading toward home” (11). What are the meanings of

“home” here, and how does this scene show how America meets and

differs from the Riveras’ expectations of it?

Mayor describes how he’s bullied at school and his general feelings of

not fitting in. How do you think this draws him to Maribel? What do

they have in common that perhaps those around them, including their

parents, cannot see on the surface?

What are some key differences in the way that the women in the novel

respond to challenges of assimilation compared to the men? How does

Alma’s point of view highlight these differences?

What brings Alma and Celia together as neighbors and friends, and

how does their relationship change by the end of the book?

How does Alma’s lingering guilt about Maribel’s accident affect her

choices and interactions when she’s in America? Do you think that she

still feels this way by the end of the book? What does she have to do,

and realize within herself, to move beyond her feelings?

Discuss Quisqueya’s role in what happens to Mayor and Maribel.

Without her intervention, how might have their relationship, and

ultimately the novel, ended differently?

How does the Toros’ buying a car influence the course of events in the

novel? What does the car mean for Rafael and Mayor individually and

for their father-son relationship?

Do you, the members of your family, or your friends have stories of

moving to another country to start a new life? Did any of the stories in

the novel resonate with those you know?

How does the final chapter, told in Arturo’s voice, influence your

understanding of what he felt about America? What do you make of

how he ends his narrative, “I loved this country,” and that it is the last

line of the book (286)?