The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero
Title: The Affairs of the Falcóns
Author: Melissa Rivero
Genre: Literary Fiction
Topics: Immigration, marriage, love and sacrifice.
Triggers: Some physical and sexual violence
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publishing Year: 2019
Format Read: Hardcover
My Rating: 5/5
Since the moment I read the synopsis (and saw the gorgeous cover) I knew that The Affairs of the Falcóns was going to be one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. I ran out to get myself a copy the day it came out and sat down to start reading right then and there. From the first lyrical and heart wrenching chapter in which Ana’s mother promises her that she will have to sacrifice for love, we are sucked into a narrative that is so full of heart, hurt and hope that you cannot peel your eyes away from the page. Ana is a complex protagonist who you sometimes want shake and sometimes want to hug and is 100% brought to life through Rivero’s gorgeous prose. It is early days yet in the year but this book has definitely claimed it spot on my shelf as one of my favorite reads of 2019.
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?
There is so much to break down and digest in this story that I feel like I am still in the processing of nursing this book hangover. It is beautiful, complex and an outstanding debut. Like all the best stories it is still going through my mind even days after I have turned the last page and honestly distilling what I loved about this book and what I felt as I was reading this novel into a somewhat cohesive idea is going to be quite challenging so please bear with me.
Rivero touches upon many subjects in her novel. There is an examination of racism and power dynamics in immigrant communities, the social and emotional burdens that we inherit from our parents and the tensions that arise in family and friendship relationships. All of these situations and more are explored by Rivero who has a keen eye for social dynamics and a talent for packing a lot of emotional impact into quiet scenes and interactions. During the course of the story, all these issues are framed by one large question that the book asks the reader to consider when following Ana’s story: What would you be willing to do for love and at what cost?
The story begins with a gorgeous and disturbing scene in which Ana as a little girl is forced to raise and kill a chicken by her mother who tells her “You’re going to love and have to do things for love. Sacrifice is a part of life”. During the rest of the story, we see Ana as an adult and a mother going to desperate lengths to keep her family together in NYC despite countless emotional, financial, and personal setbacks. As Ana becomes more desperate and her husband begins to long to go back to Peru where he enjoyed life as a light skinned, upper class and educated man, Ana finds herself becoming entangled with a money lender known as Mama and her predatory companion Don. The sacrifices and setbacks that Ana faces continue to pile up, despite her best efforts, and to take a heavy emotional, physical and financial toll, the questions always looms in the reader’s and in Ana’s mind: what is Ana willing to do for the family she loves? What lines is she willing to cross? Are they worth it?
This is a story that ask us immigrants to frankly reflect on the price of the sacrifices that we make for what we believe is the best life. The book does not offer easy answer to these questions. Ana herself is a frustratingly stubborn character who you simultaneously want to shake and hug at the same time. During the Mid-Sentence event at the New York Public Library, Melissa Rivero expressed that she herself did not approved of all the choices that Ana made but she was sympathetic to her drive to protect her family.
The second reason I particularly loved this novel was for it’s perspective on Peruvian society and how the Peruvian views on womanhood, race, class and family that Ana experienced back home inform her experiences in New York. When reflecting on my knowledge of Peruvian literature, particularly by women, I am sad to note that it is a country from which I have not read as much as I would like to, so finding and reading Rivero’s book was a particular joy. Rivero, who herself was born in Peru and was raised in New York, dives deeply not only into the country’s political history of violence and how it affected Peruvians, but she also highlights the sometimes subtler violences of racism, classism and sexism that shape the character’s perspectives, actions and dreams. I found a lot to relate to in Rivero’s accounts of Peruvian social dynamics but also felt like I came away with a new perspective I didn’t have before and a hunger to learn more.
I won’t pull punches, this is an emotionally tough book to read, as it should be. The realities that undocumented immigrants like Ana, live through are for many of us, unimaginable. From the constant fear of immigration raids, to financial pressures augmented by the limited employment and housing opportunities that come from not having work authorization. Rivero does an excellent job of weaving together these tensions into a suffocating narrative where no matter how much Ana struggles it feels like she is always one step behind, and yet she doesn’t give up hope. Rivero has written a powerful, timely and beautifully written debut that has easily earned its spot in my list of favorite reads of 2019 and that sheds light an empathy on today’s often dehumanizing political discourse on immigration.
Read if you like:
Behold the Dreamers by Mbolo Imbue
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Novels that will punch you in the heart