- Fly Above
288 Pages; Print, $16.99
Although set in early 1990s New York, Melissa Rivero's debut novel, centered on the life of the undocumented Peruvian immigrant, Ana Falcón, has never felt timelier. In his New York Times article, "An Undocumented Woman Struggles to Root Her Family in New York City," John Williams interviews Falcón, asking her why someone should read The Affairs of the Falcóns, and she states,
If you want to read about a determined and complex human being who loves her family and would do anything for them and for her dreams, then you should read this book. And then maybe think about who you end up electing into office.
Given the current political climate where (Latin American) immigrants, whether documented or not, are being vilified by the highest office in the nation, Rivero's novel stands as a testament to the everyday struggles these immigrants face in order to achieve the so-called American "Dream." The story of Ana and her family is all the more telling in its groundedness. Rivero does not cast her characters as the paragons of morality, instead they undergo many of the same struggles that many undocumented immigrants face upon entering the US's race-based social hierarchy. Rivero's characters are relatable because they are real; they make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Despite the devastating cliff-hanger ending, which I admit, had me gasping out loud—while I am an easy weeper to a tragic tale, I am not one given to dramatic outbursts; this is one of the few times I can recall exclaiming out loud, "NO!" upon realizing a story was over and flipping desperately to see if there was more to the story—as Ana remarks in the final paragraph, the reader is still left with the sense of hope knowing that, just as her surname, Falcón, implies, one could "Fly above whatever she couldn't force her way through."
Rivero's novel follows the life of Ana and her family and the various sacrifices Ana continually has to make in order to keep her family afloat. Given that she acts as the primary wage-earner, working as a seamstress in a factory that amounts to little more than a sweatshop, since her husband, Lucho, lost his job months prior, Ana is forced to balance working long hours with being a mother while also facing constant micro-aggressions from Lucho's cousin, Valeria, who has been allowing them to live with her and her husband and son after the Falcóns became homeless with the loss of Lucho's work. Ana's story is one of constantly fighting to keep her family together, despite numerous suggestions from friends and relatives to send her children back to Peru in order for Lucho and her to afford a better living. Ana's life becomes one of sacrificing her own body and self, echoing her deceased mother's most powerful lesson: "You're going to love and have to do things for love. Sacrifice is a part of life." For Ana that means: working non-stop in a factory and seeking out the local loan shark, Patricia (aka Mama to the women she "helped"), and yet none of that is enough, forcing Ana to accept the sexual advances of Don Beto, Mama's husband, in exchange for cash.
While sacrifice comes to be one of the major themes of the novel, always lurking in the background is the question of immigration. Ana struggles more so because of her undocumented status, which leaves her vulnerable to deportation and exploitive working and living situations. Despite her feeling somewhat at ease given that in a city such as New York she and her family are "merely four of millions," her lack of green card is an ever-present dark cloud that looms on the horizon. She is forced to be constantly on alert, whether it means to know the fastest way to reach the escape door at her workplace or blaming herself when Valeria calls the...