Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez AND The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice

At the 2014 Printers Row Lit Fest, Cristina Henriquez and  Luanne Rice discussed their most recent works with Luis Alberto Urrea. Urrea and Henriquez are writers recognized for their works about immigrants and immigration from Latin America. Luanne Rice had contacted Urrea about her story for The Lemon Orchard wanting to know if this story of immigration from Mexico was her story to tell. Urrea urged her to do so. 

Henríquez is the author of The Book of Unknown Americans, The World In Half, and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories. She was born in Delaware and now lives in the Chicago area. She spent her childhood summers in Panama with her father's extended family and it is her own personal knowledge and experiences that are reflected in most of her work. Her prose is exceptional and her stories are powerful.

Her most recent, The Book of Unknown Americans, has been widely reviewed and praised.   This is one example, from The Washington Post:
“The Book of Unknown Americans’ is a deeply stirring story about a budding romance between two unlikely lovers, but it is also a ringing paean to love in general: to the love between man and wife, parent and child, outsider and new­comer, pilgrims and promised land. With a simple, unadorned prose that, in the end, rises to the level of poetry, Henríquez achieves the seemingly impossible: Without a trace of sentimentality, without an iota of self-indulgence or dogma, she tells us about coming to America.”

The Book of Unknown Americans is set in Delaware and told by a variety of immigrants from Latin America, living in one apartment building. A boy and a girl who fall in love are central to the story. Each chapter is told in a different voice and by a different person, including the boy, the parents of the girl, and others who live in this small world and share the immigrant experience from a multiplicity of viewpoints.

New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice is the author of thirty-one novels. After hearing her speak about The Lemon Orchard, I knew this was one I wanted to read. It was based on her own personal experience of moving across the country to California and of time spent learning the story of a landscaper, an undocumented Mexican worker, with whom she became friends.

In The Lemon Orchard, Julia, mourning her daughter's death, moves to Malibu to house-sit for her aunt and uncle. The man who oversees the orchard, Roberto, shares with Julia the story of his journey to California from Mexico and of the loss of his daughter on that difficult journey. The book is a romance, but, even more, a story of many aspects of love and of caring, compassion for and helping others.

This is what Rice said about her experiences in an interview: " I went to the desert with the non-profit Water Station to volunteer. The desert is so vast, and death happens all the time. I was grateful that my friends survived, and it was humbling to fill water barrels and know we were saving lives. Armando’s family reminds me of my own, and of research I did about our ancestors immigration to the U.S. from Ireland. Like his, my family left a place and people they loved to escape poverty and search for a better life." This sensibility informs the story she tells in The Lemon Orchard.  

After you read these two tender and informative books, I hope you will read one by Urrea, if you have not already done so.

The Book of Unknown Americans - check our catalog
Download the ebook

The Lemon Orchard - check our catalog
Download the ebook

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