One of 2020’s most anticipated books by The Millions and Ms. Magazine
The epic journey of a young Guatemalan American college student, a “dreamer,” who gets deported and decides to make his way back home to California.
One day, Emilio learns a shocking secret: he is undocumented. His parents, who emigrated from Guatemala to California, had never told him.
Emilio slowly adjusts to his new normal. All is going well, he’s in his second year at UC Berkeley...then he gets into a car accident, and—without a driver’s license or any ID—the policeman on the scene reports him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Once deported to Guatemala, Emilio is determined to get back to California, the only home he has ever known. It is an epic journey that takes him across thousands of miles and eventually the Sonoran Desert of the United States–Mexico border, meeting thieves and corrupt law enforcement but also kind strangers and new friends.
Inspired in part by interviews with Central American refugees, and told in lyrical prose, Micheline Aharonian Marcom weaves a heart-pounding and heartbreaking tale of adventure. The New American tells the story of one young man who risks so much to go home.
Chapter 1 He saw her standing atop the low seawall. Light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, long legs in tight blue jeans, and a smile of hello in her blue eyes. She looked happy. He shouted out to her not to go into the ocean because the tide was unpredictable and she might drown. She replied that it was safe and warm and that she was a strong swimmer and she jumped off of the low seawall fully clothed into the water below and although they were at Muir Beach the sea looked different, calmer and darker blue, abutting the stones. He felt suddenly terrified and yelled out her name, but he didn’t jump into the water after her because of the paralysis the terror caused in his body and the tide rose and took her from him. She was saying something he couldn’t hear as she drifted farther and farther out, wave upon wave, to another place in the long distance, and he felt again his grief and rage and loneliness. He wanted to follow after her, he thought perhaps she might drown, but he remained where he was next to the seawall. He saw the back of her head like the head of a small sea lion far out in the dark blue water, near the light blue sky, as she drifted now onto the widest part of the ocean. Where has she gone? he thought.
Micheline Aharonian Marcom was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Los Angeles. She has published seven novels, including a trilogy of books about the Armenian genocide and its aftermath in the 20th century. She has received fellowships and awards from the Lannan Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the US Artists’ Foundation. Her first novel, Three Apples Fell From Heaven, was a New York Times Notable Book and Runner-Up for the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction. Her second novel, The Daydreaming Boy, won the PEN/USA Award for Fiction. In 2008, Marcom taught in Beirut, Lebanon, on a Fulbright Fellowship. Marcom splits her time between California and Virginia where she is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. She is the founder and Creative Director of The New American Story Project [NASP], a digital oral history project focused on unaccompanied Central American minors who journeyed thousands of miles to reach the US. Visit NASP at NewAmericanStoryProject.org.
“This is a gorgeous, gorgeous book, which is remarkable in its unflinching look at an experience which shouldn’t be. No one should have to travel, like thousands of people do, across the border in search of opportunity, and face thieves and gangs and corrupt law enforcement, and wind and rain and the brutally hot sun. Marcom illuminates this experience with a keen eye both for the darkest and brightest parts of the soul. There is violence here, and generosity. There is fear, and hope. It is messy, and it is beautiful.” —Emily G., Editor, on The New American
"[Marcom's] telling resonates with heartbreaking authenticity. And despite the travails she is describing, Marcom’s writing is vibrant and often poetic....Today’s headlines will not let us forget that thousands of other children riding the Bestia. Marcom’s compassionate novel illuminates their painful journey."—NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS
"[An] emotionally piercing, compulsively readable novel." —SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“[Marcom] depicts inhumanity with visceral force, but her bracing empathy (and hope) shines above all.”—ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
“Inspired in part by interviews with Central American refugees, and told in lyrical prose, Micheline Aharonian Marcom's novel The New American tracks the heart-pounding and fictional journey of a dreamer, a term referring to young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, who have lived and gone to school here, and who, in many cases, identify as American.”—FORTUNE
“Inspired by interviews with Central American refugees, the latest captivating novel by Micheline Aharonian Marcom centers a Dreamer named Emilio, who is determined to return to California after being deported.”—MS. MAGAZINE
“We need books like The New American, by Micheline Aharonian Marcom, which sweeps you into an uncomfortable reality, expands your heart, and helps you see through the eyes of a dreamer fighting to regain a lost promise. The world within its pages is unflinching and cruel but brims with hope and beauty. A catalyst for connection and empathy, The New American is also an immersive page-turner that will keep you reading eagerly to its conclusion.”—NECESSARY FICTION
“[P]owerful, heartbreaking….Marcom’s remarkable tale credibly captures the desperation and despair of those who undertake the dangerous trek north."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"Marcom has penned a lyrical mediation on being and becoming, identity and anonymity, and the ambiguity of place." – LIBRARY JOURNAL(starred review)
“[A] harrowing, heartbreaking story…Marcom’s plotting and pacing are well honed, and her prose is often revelatory…a gripping novel.”—KIRKUS
"[A] poetic nightmarescape that hums with foreboding and the anguish of lost innocence....Marcom masterfully navigates the graphic ugliness of deportation and anguished immigration with entreaties to a remote and capricious God, creating a tough but necessary and beautiful novel."—BOOKLIST