The title of Melissa Rivero’s affective novel, The Affairs of the Falcóns, sounds like a telenovela. “Affairs” recalls the romance-centric plots of many shows, while the “Falcóns” sounds like a glamorous dynasty. I don’t know if Rivero meant for her readers to think this. If she did, she certainly turns any expectations of a stereotypical telenovela-esque novel on their heads. This book is about the hard life of Ana Falcón née Ríos, an undocumented Peruvian immigrant to the United States, who makes all the hard decisions in her family.
The Affairs of the Falcóns takes place in the weeks leading up to and following New Year’s Eve. Ana, her husband Lucho, and their children are living with Lucho’s cousin, Valeria. No one is happy with this this arrangement. Valeria is a jealous woman with a failing business. She also loathes Ana because she believes Ana tricked Lucho into marrying her, years ago. Ana and Lucho miss their old apartment, but they lost it when Lucho was laid off. Ana also misses the days when she and Lucho both contributed to the household and she wasn’t under so much pressure. Oh, and Ana is pregnant.
Abortion also plays a big role in this book. Ana and her husband cannot afford another child. They’re barely hanging on financially as it is. From my perspective and Ana’s, it seems like abortion is a perfectly rational and correct choice. But, because Ana is a part of a very religiously conservative community (though I love her syncretic personal practice), she has to go about this covertly. Any time anyone gets a hint that Ana will be using money, they suddenly refuse to lend her so much as a cent. And, to add insult to injury, everyone except her best friend condemns her for thinking about it and fails to offer any practical help. If Ana has a child, she and her family will almost certainly have to return to Peru. Not only does The Affairs of the Falcóns give us a close-up view of the experience of an undocumented immigrant, it also gives us a sharp lesson in what it’s like for a woman who is caught between the rock of a child and the hard place of being judged and unaided by the people around her.
This is plenty to fill a telenovela, but there’s another element to this book that fascinated me: the ethnic chip on Ana’s shoulder. Ana has an almost phobic aversion to returning to Peru. When she left, the Sendero Luminoso and the government made her village in the Peruvian mountains untenable. Life in Lima wasn’t much better, especially when she first started dating Carlos Falcón before she and Lucho fell in love. The matriarch of the Falcóns looks down on Ana because of her indigenous heritage. In Lima, people like Ana are apparently only fit to be domestics and are often considered to be gold-diggers. The way she was treated in Lima has colored her entire perspective; she just can’t believe that she can trust others who aren’t indigenous—this includes her husband, unfortunately for the both of them.
The Affairs of the Falcóns is a deep slice of life novel that looks closely at the experience of undocumented people in New York, particularly Peruvians. This book is incredibly moving for its emotional depth, especially at the end when all the suppressed truths come out. The characters are so well-drawn that they seemed so real that I wouldn’t have been surprised to bump into Ana or Lucho or any of the other characters in this book on the street.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.