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THE NEW AMERICAN by Micheline Aharonian Marcom


by Micheline Aharonian Marcom

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9821-2072-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Emilio, a "dreamer" and U.C. Berkeley student who has been deported to Guatemala, a country foreign to him, tries to return to the Bay Area home where he was raised.

Emilio’s mother, in Northern California, wants her son to stay put with a relative in rural Guatemala while an immigration attorney in the United States works on his case. But Emilio is young, bright, and afraid—that his life will pass him by waiting for the U.S. to get its immigration-policy act together and that he’ll never see his mother, two sisters, and girlfriend again. He embarks on the perilous journey back to California secretly, hoping he can make most of the trip before having to call his mother for help. Along the way, he befriends four Hondurans—Mathilde, Jonatan, Pedro, and William—and together they cross into Mexico, ride atop The Beast, the infamous freight train that travels north, and traverse the Sonoran Desert to cross the U.S.’s southern border. Marcom has crafted a harrowing, heartbreaking story. Emilio and his friends experience extreme violence and terror as well as deep wells of courage, resilience, and hope. The author explores the many ways people preserve their dignity in circumstances in which others with more power would reduce them to animals. While people do monstrous things, no one here is all monster. For every cartel henchman who abuses the migrants, there is a volunteer who offers them food, water, clothing, shelter, or words of comfort. Marcom’s plotting and pacing are well honed, and her prose is often revelatory, but a romance between Emilio and Mathilde feels jarring in its insistence on their inexhaustible nobility. Likewise, stories from other migrants riding the train, though well-told, feel like reportage conspicuously dropped into the story. The author's effort to “humanize” Emilio the Dreamer and the other Central American migrants raises questions about whom this novel is for and what it’s assuming about whose voices will be heard on migration.

A gripping novel to read alongside the work of contemporary Latinx writers.