Set in New York City in the mid-1990s, Melissa Rivero’s debut novel, The Affairs of the Falcóns, shows how one immigrant woman keeps her dreams alive.
Ana Rios dreams of owning a restaurant, but obstacles are stacked against her. She and her underemployed husband, along with their two kids, are Peruvian immigrants without papers and are living with relatives temporarily. To supplement her meager factory pay, Ana borrows money from a Cuban loan shark named Mama, as well as from Peruvian friends and co-workers. As difficult as life is in the U.S. is, she fears deportation more than sticking it out. She has nothing to return to in Peru. What if her past and her little flock—the very things that keep her from her dream of becoming a chef—are also the very things that support it?
In following Ana’s epicurean aspirations, the book serves up a savory blend of stories, spiced with Spanish language and aromatic descriptions. The plot is thick and hearty, and Ana’s narrative is layered with her friends’ and family’s complicated intrigues, replete with sexual affairs and dicey side businesses. The host of female characters pack a powerful punch of sacrificial love mixed with sensuality. Struggles of the heart are conveyed with candor and visceral detail: the smell of a man coming home from work, scented candles on a home altar, menstrual cramps.
The book opens on Ana’s 12th birthday, when she butchers her first chicken and gets her first period. Her mom tells her, “You’re going to have to love and do things for love. . . . Better learn this lesson now. God knows I don’t want you running around here for the rest of your life, like this bird. . . . I need you to fly, Ana.” Ana applies this lesson in a riveting finale, conjuring empathy and admiration for all immigrants facing similar circumstances.