Book Reviews

Rhetoric involving Immigration often comes with a wide variety of responses from readers all over the place. The Book of Unknown Americans is no exception to this. There is always a question of how culture is represented and how authentic the author chooses to be. In a country like the United States, immigration is a large part of the lives of many citizens, and a fictional immigration story can either speak to people’s experiences, or counter them.

The New York Times

Published in 2014, The Book of Unknown Americans most definitely spoke to the many stories American Immigrants possess. It was immediately met with wonderful reviews. An article published in the New York Times  mentions that “The Book of Unknown Americans’ is less about the actual trek of its characters than it is about how they settle in, make do and figure things out. They talk to one another, give advice and lend a hand.” This article praises Cristina Henriquez’s ability to build her characters into layered, motivated human beings that appeal to emotional and familial values. The article goes on about how she paints a personal picture of immigration and does not try to generalize a journey.

The story has the weight of fate, partly because of its universal themes and partly because of the intermittent references to Chinese traditions and traditional ways of thinking and talking… Even as you worry about what might happen, you trust her [Kimberly]—after all, you’ve watched her grow up. ― Review by Ana Castillo, The New York Times

read the full review here


The Washington Post 

Similarly, The Washington Post praises Henriquez for representing intersectionality in her description of oppression. It is not simply about immigration. It is also about disability, economic status, race, and even the oppression of star-crossed-lovers. The writer describes it as “a quiet, unassuming novel that ravels slowly, quickens without warning, spins into high drama and leaves you in thrall to its vivid characters and its author’s sure hand.” The article focuses how the immigration is the highlight of the American story because “in case we’ve forgotten: It all started this way.”

I love books about other cultures, especially Chinese; and I adore coming-of-age stories. So I pretty much expected to like this novel. But what did surprise me is how touched I was by Kimberly’s (and her mother’s) story. I guess I realized that it would be difficult to come to a new country and learn a new language and a new culture; however, this book really demonstrated to me how incredibly difficult it would be as well as how strong the individuals are who make the transition. I honestly was blown away by Kimberly’s story and how much it affected me. ― Review by Marie Arana, The Washington Post

read the full review here


The Guardian 

Other reviewers thought that maybe Henriquez was focused too much on the outside details and missing the driving point of immigration. A particular article published by The Guardian thought that she could have represented her individual characters better and more thoroughly. And probably the most interesting point the novel makes questions the representation of Hispanic culture in the story:

I finished this book with the unusual wish that the author had been less ambitious. The book is markedly stronger when it focuses on the central characters. But Henríquez spends too much time on the periphery of her story, making points that feel at once too vague and too obvious. She should have let us get to know a few of the unknown Americans here, without twisting their story into a political parable, and without trying to tell everyone’s story at once.

This ambitious story about Hispanic tenants in a run-down apartment building is lit by sharp observations, but it’s a pity none of the characters sounds remotely Spanish. ― Review by Sandra Newman, The Guardian

read the full review here


With awards given by Amazon’s Best Books of 2014 and The Daily Beast’s 2014 Novel of the year, The Book of Unknown Americans has received an abundant amount of praise. It is clear that people appreciate the character development in this story of love and struggle.


The Book of Unknown Americans Homepage

World Literature, 2018

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