Near the end of Melissa Rivero’s intensely moving debut novel, “The Affairs of the Falcóns,” the protagonist Ana, steeling herself after the latest betrayal to threaten her security, says that she has “no regrets.”
It’s an astonishing assertion, not because you question it — you know without a doubt that she is sincere — but because of what she has endured.
For Ana, all that matters is that she and her two young children are still together and still in America. At various points in the book, set in New York City in the 1990s, both her husband and her best friend suggest that life might be easier if the children were back in Peru.
But separating the family is not an option for Ana. And neither is going back, not with the continuing violence in her homeland, violence that cost her so much growing up. And so Ana does whatever is necessary, including pawning their wedding bands, skimping on her medication and surrendering their passports to secure a loan from a prestamista, or moneylender, to keep the family in NYC.
This is not the usual up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant tale told in fiction. Adding to their adversity, Ana, her husband and their kids are all living in the U.S. illegally, striving to succeed but living in constant fear of becoming too visible and getting deported.
That a book with such hardship is so engrossing, and indeed enjoyable, is a testament to Rivero’s genuine, complex characterization and her evocative writing, liberally infused with Spanish.
There are glimpses of joy here — a New Year’s Eve feast, the kids giggling in the morning — but this is largely about sacrifice, heartbreak and unbelievable grit. It’s vital and should be required reading for any politician or voter willfully disparaging immigrants and the almost impossible choices they make for a shot at a new life.