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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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The Book of Unknown Americans

The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel - Cristina Henriquez

It's easy to go into a book with such a lucid title as The Book of Unknown Americans  and know what you're getting. Though its subject and perspective is clearly a sensitive exploration of what it means to be of Hispanic origin in America, this novel doesn't stop there. There's so much more to it. In fact, in the end, I felt  The Book of Unknown Americans  more adequately tapped the subject of brain-injured Americans than any other topic.


Overall, The Book of Unknown Americans  is a lovely and poignant tale. The primary narratives, told through the alternating voices of Alma and Mayor, were a pleasure to read. The secondary narratives, chapters entwined with the primary ones told in many different voices, were sometimes a little too clichéd and simple, although their purpose became clear in the end. What pulled me into this book was Maribel and her relationship with Mayor. Although that may have not been the intended subject of the novel, it is what kept me hooked. Both Maribel and Mayor were written with such sensitivities that I found myself enthralled by them, wrapped up in whatever relationship might develop.


The structure and voice all come together in the end to create a heartfelt and well-told tale. Although it was probably not the author's intention originally, I do feel as though the novel belonged to Maribel and Mayor. I'd have liked to have had more time with them, but it wasn't meant to be. The Book of Unknown Americans is the sort of novel that is a pleasure to read, but doesn't necessarily stick with you. The characters and their trials were real, but not entirely memorable. Alma's tale was excruciatingly gut wrenching, especially her final chapters, but it was her daughter's story that sticks with me. It was Maribel who remained the biggest unknown and whom I desperately wanted to know better.