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Summer reading for 2015 is Cristina Henríquez’s The Book of Unknown Americans.
Let us all be from somewhere;
let us tell each other everything we can.
When I read the opening epigraph in The Book of Unknown Americans, I’m reminded that Henríquez herself grew up in Delaware, attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in Iowa City, and now lives in Chicago. Her Panamanian father immigrated to the United States to study engineering in 1971. I suppose we are all from somewhere.
Perhaps Henríquez drew from her father’s experience when she wrote The Book of Unknown Americans, her second novel, but she also drew from our common human experience. In fact, the enduring questions for the Fall Semester of Paideia are, “What makes us human? What does it mean to be human?” These questions will frame our discussion about works by Frederick Douglass, Mary Shelley, Charles Darwin, Karel Câpek, Joseph Haydn and Michelangelo Buonarroti.
While these texts address our enduring questions, they each reflect a particular place and time as well. For example, in our current political environment, Henríquez has sometimes been asked what her novel has to say about immigration reform. She tends to reply, “That’s not what the novel is about. It’s about the human faces, the human stories, the human lives behind what for many people has become only an issue” (Olivas). Once you’ve read the novel, you can decide for yourself: does the author emphasize the common threads of human experience, or the differences?
Order your copy of The Book of Unknown Americans from the Luther Book Shop.