The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

a nutshell: incorporating an array of first-person narratives from Latino immigrants to the US, this book’s focal lens is on the complex dynamic between two families from Panamá and Mexico living in an apartment block in Delaware

a line: “You have to think like a gringa now … You have to believe that you’re entitled to happiness.”

an image: Alma recalls how she came to know her husband’s soft spots, like bruises on fruit, which in turn recalled for me the words of another character, Rafael Toro, as he remembered Panamá through the smell of car exhaust and sweet fruit

a thought: a teenage boy lets us in on how he felt it was ‘backwards’ for his parents to have fled Panamá for the US, that is, for the nation that had driven them out of theirs

a fact: Henríquez’s father is from Panamá and immigrated to the US in 1971, while her mother is from New Jersey and worked in Delaware public schools as a translator – Henríquez herself was born in Delaware but spent summers in Panamá

want to read The Book of Unknown Americans? visit here

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

knitting the fog cover with misty path image, book on tile floor all in black and white

a nutshell: blending narrative personal essays and bilingual poetry, Hernández shares her matriarchal upbringing and her childhood journey from Guatemala to Los Angeles

a line: “Tía Soila has always been a breathing poem who knows how to climb the tallest tamarindo trees”

an image: the scene in which Hernández, her sisters & her mother are to cross the Río Bravo to make the leap from Mexico to the US is one of the most intensely memorable in the book, particularly the moment where one of the sisters worries aloud about their inability to swim and Hernández (“trying to be brave and hopeful”) reassures her that she’ll rescue her

a thought: her mother’s physical violence towards others and corporal punishments on the girls for any misbehaviour made for discomfiting reading; Hernández’s explanation of what her mother had endured earlier in life was telling, but not excusing, nevertheless the writer expresses gratitude in the Acknowledgements for her mother’s courage & sacrifices

a fact: languages & accents play a big role in Hernández’s story about coming of age, and I learned that Guatemala has more than twenty Mayan & distinct indigenous languages

want to read Knitting the Fog? visit here

The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli (tr. Kristina Cordero)

Blue spine of book with title and author, blank red cover, yellow brick wall in background

a nutshell: subtitled ‘A Memoir of Love and War’, this is a stunningly rich remembrance of an acclaimed Nicaraguan writer’s involvement in the Sandinista Revolution and how she came to age as a passionate feminist in & out of exile

a line: “I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t believe in the creative powers of the human imagination”

an image: on returning to Managua after a heart-rending medical procedure in NYC, Belli presses her forehead to the plane window and realises the runway is beautifully lit by oil lamps – since recent storms had wreaked havoc, they had relied on these with the hope it wouldn’t rain

a thought: Belli’s account certainly made me reflect on social responsibility & collective joy – esp. as my partner is currently reading Lynne Segal’s Radical Happiness – but I never quite pinpointed whether her primary source of joy is herself or collaboration (sometimes she singles out the former as the key to happiness, other times the latter)

a fact: Belli’s most well-known book, The Inhabited Woman, is a semi-autobiographical novel which raised gender issues for the first time in the Nicaraguan revolutionary narratives, yet she considers herself a poet before all else

want to read The Country Under My Skin? visit here

Feebleminded by Ariana Harwicz (tr. Annie McDermott & Carolina Orloff)

a nutshell: this is breathless, bewildering, bestial fiction streaming from the pulsating mind of a young woman near-delirious with lust & frustration

a line: “I’m thinning out, becoming just an idea”
a bonus line: “I despise this life where in the kitchen at a certain time of day the water starts to boil” (I couldn’t choose just one; almost every line kicks like a neckful of Fernet)

an image: the narrator’s imaginings /recollections?/ of her mother’s sexual exploits are intensely disturbing – the volatile, perverse mother-daughter dynamic is the novel’s nucleus

a thought: I’ll be processing my 1000s of thoughts on Harwicz’s incendiary writing for some time! for now: one of the things that interested me a lot was the degree to which she pushed me to question what I’m willing to believe from the narrator – I closed the book with no idea how much was delusion/dream/reality

a fact: the novel is currently being adapted for the stage in Argentina, which I find a very curious prospect… I’ll be watching that space!

want to read Feebleminded? visit here

[PS. big thanks to Charco Press for the copy!]