Thursday, June 16, 2016
#WeekofReviews: Quiet, Subtle, Powerful - The Book of Unknown Americans
It was really difficult for me to figure out how to review this one because it's difficult to read, brutal at times, but there's still a subtlety to it that sets it apart from other issues-based, largely violence-based, books I've read in recent years. The characters in The Book of Unknown Americans face tangible, unrelenting problems every day: the distinct possibility that an illness or a family emergency could put them out of a job. The mental and emotional fatigue they experience working at thankless, relentless, mind-numbing tasks. The overwhelming hurdles caused by language barriers, cultural differences, and prejudice.
That's not to say that there is no violence in The Book of Unknown Americans, but it is not the main thrust of the novel. It's really the everyday hardships that comes to the fore. Sprinkled throughout, between the chapters about the Rivera and Toro families, were small excerpts from other characters' perspectives: the landlord, the next-door neighbor, the gossip, the slacker. Not only do they tell their backstory, we get a feel for their cultural differences and the distinctiveness of their individual experiences.
It's a quiet book, overall, but it's such a very good book. Thoughtful, heart-wrenching, demanding but subtle and so finely crafted that you can take it for granted. Don't miss this one.
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