The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

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Quotes

Multiple narrators share the pages of this novel. Two voices, those of Alma Rivera and Mayor Toro, each are featured in eight chapters, while seven more narrators speak in a single chapter apiece.

Alma's family was decimated during their stay in the United States. Part of her story takes place there and part of it in her native Mexico. They came to the U.S. for her special needs daughter's school.

When Maribel, the daughter, starts school, Alma is not fully confident it will be the right place for her, though she dearly hopes so.

I wanted more than anything for her to be fine and fine and eventually better than fine, for her to transform again into the girl she used to be, for this past year to have been nothing but a strange, cruel detour. . . .

Learning English was a major challenge. The qualities of the language seemed completely different: dense and tight. It had

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.

Mayor has lived most of his life in the United States, and Panama does not seem quite real to him, even though his dad says it's in his bones.

The truth was that I didn’t know which I was. I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim.

After Arturo is killed, Alma tries to process her grief as she gets ready to return to Mexico. She finds that objects exert power over her in that they remind her of her loss.

I pulled the sheets off the bed with the idea that I could gather up the imprint of him and save it. I thought, I can unfurl the sheets on our old bed at home. I can lie in the creases formed by his body. I can sleep with him again.