A Scary and Fascinating Scenario
America Libre by Raul Ramos y Sanchez is one of the books to read this 2009, so make sure you have it on your list
Dramatic and thought-provoking, America Libre is an ambitious novel.
Published on LatinoLA: December 1, 2009
The story is set in Los Angeles in the near future and begins with our protagonist, ex-army soldier Manolo Suarez, as he is desperately trying to find a job to support his wife and children. Early each morning he goes out in search of work, only to come back exhausted and depressed each evening. At the same time, tension between Hispanic and Anglos is rapidly escalating in the Hispanic communities. When an innocent child bystander gets caught up in a shooting and is killed in El Paso, Texas, the situation begins to turn from ugly to extreme.
Then a mysterious, beautiful blond Hispanic named Jo offers Manolo a job. After a short time, it becomes clear to Manolo that there's something not quite right about his attractive new boss and the place he's working in. His suspicions prove clear when he finds out that Jo is a rich woman working for La Defensa del Pueblo, a movement that seeks to re-do the borders between the United States and Mexico, and she offers him a 'real' job in the organization as a bodyguard. From that moment on, Manolo is morally torn between two belief systems. Though she doesn't know the full extend of her husband's job, from the very start Rosa is suspicious of Jo and doesn't want Manolo to work for her. Rosa is also jealous, and believes Jo has blinded Manolo.
As Manolo's involvement in the organization gets deeper and deeper, and the situation in the country between Hispanics and Anglos turns to extreme, the US government decides to take drastic measures to handle the situation, including classifying all Hispanics as 'Class H' and putting them in special camps. As all this is happening, the romantic tension between Manolo and Jo increases each day, sending him into an even deeper moral struggle than he ever imagined. Then something horrible happens to Manolo's wife and kids which serves as a catalyst for making Manolo decide where his loyalties lie.
I have many good things to say about this novel. Sanchez's gives us a scary and fascinating scenario of what could happen in the future. The book has a powerful premise and the author has set the stage well for the story and the characters. The novel appears to be well researched and all the action scenes and description of weapons sound genuine. The protagonist's inner struggle and his high morality and sense of justice push the story along and draw the reader deeper into the non-stop action scenario. Manolo is a sympathetic character that made me feel for his predicament. My favorite character, though, is beautiful and enigmatic Jo. She's strong, passionate, and like Manolo, also possesses a high sense of justice. But for me, she kept the story alive by being more 'human', more complex and full of contradictions than Manolo. I guess sometimes, for me, Manolo is too 'perfect'. But Jo, with all her strengths and weaknesses, comes across as very real.
The relationship between Jo and Manolo, although sentimental at times, is interesting to follow. I kept wondering until the end what was going to happen between them.
The pace is good and the writing flows smoothly; the story drew me right away at the beginning and kept me turning pages until the end. This is a very cinematographic novel and the scenes unfolded before my eyes like a movie. The dialogue is crisp and natural. I found most secondary characters well developed except for Manolo's wife, Rosa. I'm not sure why, but Rosa never came alive for me. She was completely overshadowed by Jo--I'd say practically invisible next to Jo, and her high morals and role of perfect wife and mother never quite convinced me. If the author did this on purpose to show Jo's unique character, he succeeded.
In sum, I loved the book and found it intriguing and mentally stimulating. America Libre is one of the books to read this 2009, so make sure you have it on your list.
By Raul Ramos y Sanchez
Grand Central Publishing
Copyright August 2009
Mayra Calvani is the author of eight books and a professional reviewer.