The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel...A review.
I forget why I put this book on my reading list or where I saw it. I can usually remember a recommendation. But I'm drawing a blank here. Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad I read it. I just wish I remembered who told me to. (If you did and you're reading this, lemme know!)
I feel like I've read quite a few novels lately that have been organized in very nontraditional, creative ways. Different voices for different chapters, writing the book in non-chronological ways, and in this one: introducing characters for only a few pages to give a more complete picture of immigrant life. I love it when an author sees the structure as a book as another way to build story. It shows that the words aren't everything and the thread of a story isn't always singular or continuous.
To be vulnerable and honest, I don't know much about immigrant life or issues in our country. Growing up in Lancaster, PA doesn't exactly expose you to people who are different than you (ironically, I read this book while on a trip home). Since becoming a bonafide grown-up, I've invested in the refugee population in Denver which has opened my eyes to people trying to make their way in our country. But it is still such a puzzle to me—the idealization of America and then the brutal reality of arriving here without language skills or applicable job experience. It's all so overwhelming and feels a bit like a weight dropped on your chest when you really examine what that means for people.
This book confronts those realities from the perspective of immigrants who moved to Delaware from all over Latin America. The main voice is that of a Mexican family as they navigate their new home with neighbors who had been there for years. It's painful to read at times and absolutely heartbreaking at others. There are small victories along the way, which give the book a good pace. It's inspiring in a "let's all just be Americans who love each other" way and discouraging in the "people are still super racist" way.
I wish there was a little bow to wrap up this review, but it left me conflicted. So happy to have read and learned, but conflicted nonetheless.
Who is this book for?
People who don't know any immigrants: Yes.
People who work with immigrants: Uh-huh.
People who have negative feelings toward immigrants: Probably not. Unless you have an open mind.
People who like to see things from another perspective: Please, do it. Read it.
What does this book say?
People do what they have to in this life. We try to get from one end of it to the other with dignity and with honor. We do the best we can.
Because a place can do many things against you, and if it’s your home or if it was your home at one time, you still love it. That’s how it works.
I wanted her to have the full, long life that every parent promises his or her child by the simple act of bringing that child into the world.