Review of “El Libro de los Americanos Desconocidos,” by Christina Henriquez
I’ve been reading Spanish language novels recently and this is my third. This book was simultaneously published in English (the original language) and Spanish. Thus, my review should be taken as applicable to either version. However, this book is best read in Spanish because all of the characters are Hispanic and almost every word in it should be understood in Spanish. I read it to improve my reading comprehension. Nevertheless, it is a good exploration of the way many Americans (some of the characters are naturalized citizens) live.
The main story is about a Mexican family who came to the U.S. to seek special education for their daughter who had suffered a brain injury in an accident. All of the characters find themselves in a run-down apartment complex in Delaware, where they interact around the central theme. The author does a very good job presenting this disparate group of immigrants, so much in fact that I didn’t like any of them. I should add that many of them are only introduced in short chapters that summarize their stories, but I don’t see how she could have avoided that problem. Nevertheless, there was a sense of abruptness to their stories, which had very little to do with the main story. It probably should have been longer.
I especially appreciated how the author thoughtfully revealed the mental anguish (and personal behavior) of the central character, who I found myself disliking as I learned more about her. Don’t get me wrong. Creating and developing a character who isn’t evil and does nothing unethical that a reader learns to dislike is very difficult. Still, this woman is responsible, through what I would call her fundamental stupidity, for everything bad that happens to her family. This part, which is key to the entire story, is very well written.
The ending seemed a little contrived but it works because of the focus on the main character; however, I would have enjoyed some follow-through on the secondary romantic story line. It didn’t happen. I think the author didn’t want (or know how) to bring all of these separate themes together. Had she done that, it would have been a great book. As it is, it’s a good book and I would recommend it to anyone who wants an inside look into the fate of immigrants from Latin America.