The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero
Published by Ecco
Publication date: April 2, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Cultural, Debut, Fiction, Social Issues
Life for Ana Falcón is walking a high-wire above a field of razors. She works long days at garment factory hunched over a sewing machine, while her husband, Lucho drives a cab at night. They live with their two small children in the bedroom of a cousin’s apartment in Brooklyn. A cousin who has made it clear they need to move on, but their jobs don’t bring in enough income to pay for an apartment. Even worse, they are in debt to to a loan shark named Mama. She now holds the deed to Lucho’s family home in Peru and threatens to sell it because they’re behind on payments. The Falcóns left Peru to escape political violence, but at what cost? Through Ana, author Melissa Rivero explores the plight of undocumented immigrants in America in her debut novel, The Affairs of the Falcóns.
Mama’s loan is not even the greatest of Ana’s problems. More money was needed and Mama’s husband liked Ana so he gave her what she needed. Only now, there are strings attached. Strings that mean she has to lie to everyone. With each passing day, she feels the noose tighten around her neck. She can’t get enough overtime to earn the money they need, they have to send money home to Peru, Lucho’s driving is not earning what they expected, and Valeria wants them out of the apartment now. No matter which way she turns the demands on her are increasing as her options disappear.
Rivero uses Ana’s life in Peru to go deeper into the reasons why she wanted to move to America. There is the visible trauma of having both parents killed by the military in their village, but there is also the less visible difficulties she had once she moved to Lima—a huge cultural and social change for her. She was marked as being less-than for her dark skin and mountain dialect. No matter how she worked she never got approval from Lucho’s light-skin, well-educated family. Nor could she find a decent job. In America she believed all of that would disappear and sheer hard work would get her to her dreams.
Reading The Affairs of the Falcóns was disturbing and eye-opening. I had no idea skin tone was of such social and economic importance in Peru. And while in recent years through the news and my own reading I’ve gotten a better sense of what immigrants (legal or not) go through in America, it is startling to read all the ways Ana and her family are preyed upon by predatory lenders, overworked by employers, and overcharged for virtually everything—victimized because they have no recourse. This novel is not a thriller, but the levels of tension Rivero maintains through the story are greater than I’ve felt in a long time. Her precision in creating Ana’s world makes for a novel so intense I was left jittery, anxious, and even more cognizant of how fortunate I am. This is not easy reading, but it is worth it.