Mid-sentence: The Affairs of the Falcóns Event Recap
Mid-sentence: The Affairs of the Falcóns
The New York Public Library, 42nd Street
Monday April 15 2019
Reading by Melissa Rivero, moderated by Laura Pegram
This year there are so many incredible debuts by Latinx authors making a splash! Top among my personal list of most anticipated releases was The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero. You can find my full review of the book here. The short version is I loved it and you should read it!
Below is a portion of the interview as transcribed to the best of my memory and ability from my notes. All mistakes are my own.
Book summary: Ana Falcón, along with her husband Lucho and their two young children, has fled the economic and political strife of Peru for a chance at a new life in New York City in the 1990s. Being undocumented, however, has significantly curtailed the family’s opportunities: Ana is indebted to a loan shark who calls herself Mama, and is stretched thin by unceasing shifts at her factory job. To make matters worse, Ana must also battle both criticism from Lucho’s cousin—who has made it obvious the family is not welcome to stay in her spare room for much longer—and escalating and unwanted attention from Mama’s husband.
As the pressure builds, Ana becomes increasingly desperate. While Lucho dreams of returning to Peru, Ana is deeply haunted by the demons she left behind and determined to persevere in this new country. But how many sacrifices is she willing to make before admitting defeat and returning to Peru? And what lines is she willing to cross in order to protect her family?
Laura: During your writing process, which character pulled you in when the story came to you?
Melissa: Ana, she kept me writing. There are certain aspect of my mother and other women in my life in Ana although she is not my mother directly. Ana was definitely the character who kept me writing,
Laura: How did you approach the history of Peru in your story?
Melissa: Peru is a country that has seen a lot of violence, revolutionaries and terrorism. The Shining Path comes to mind. A lot of these groups recruited through intimidation and fear, others joined because they genuinely believed in the cause. I tried to touch up this in the novel. I grew up in the US, learning this history from an American perspective, an I admit I would don’t know as much as I wish I did so I tried to do as much research as I could.
Laura: How did Mama appear to you as a character?
Melissa: She was based on someone my mom knew when I was growing up. Although she was a nice person! I needed someone in the story that Ana could go to for money. Mama is a complicated character. She is a business woman. She wants to get paid, that is her main drive. But she is also lonely and vulnerable. She wants company and is dependant on Ana to run her errands for her. She is bad, yes, but also vulnerable.
Laura: I loved that you included a variety of perspectives including indigenous and black Peruvians. What are some of the challenges you faced as a debut novelist representing Peruvians on the page?
Melissa: I grew up in a tight knit Peruvian community, and as much as I love my people, I saw a lot of racism and colorism. I wanted to show people who I would see in my community but who you normally don’t see in entertainment, book or otherwise.
Laura: Let’s talk about class and colorism. What blinders did privilege put on Lucho, Ana’s husband?
Melissa: Lucho thinks he understands the struggle of women and indigenous people through his education. He defends Ana in a scene when a friend of his says that indigenous people from the countryside are ‘invading’ Lima. An on an intellectual level he does get it, but he doesn’t ever fully grasp what it means to be a woman or indigenous.
Laura: What are some of the sacrifices that Ana had to go through on her journey?
Melissa: Ana had to decide not to speak and to remain quiet which is hard for someone with her own dreams.
Laura: What did this novel teach you about survival?
Melissa: After I became a mom I became more sympathetic towards Ana even though I don’t agree with all the decisions she made.
Laura: What were some of the major surprises that you ran into when crafting this novel?
Melissa: Some of my friends would call me hard headed or stubborn and I think Ana is too. I was surprised at the lengths she is willing to go to to chase what she thinks is the best life for her family. Also I was surprised by how much becoming a mom impacted my relationship to the characters.
At the end of the event there was also time for a Q&A during which I asked the following question, with assistance from Lupita from @Lupitareads
Q: Why was it important to include characters like Mama and Valeria who are also immigrants but take advantage of Ana and other immigrants who are in more vulnerable positions?
A: Mama and Valeria are trying to establish their power by putting people into hierarchies. Valeria is looking to validate her own experience, she sees being documented as an accomplishment which causes tension in her relationship with Ana who is undocumented.
I was undocumented for 9 years and unfortunately this is something that does happen in immigrant communities.