The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 27: Alma Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Arturo’s death, Alma says, she “detached from [her]self.”  She remembers the pain of the moment she learned of Arturo’s death and how difficult it was to tell Maribel that her father had died. There were no words “in Spanish [or] in English” to “match the depths” of her sorrow.
Alma finds that language is insufficient in its ability to hold her and her daughter’s grief—there is nothing that could have prepared them for the anguish they now feel.
Themes
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma, unable to sleep on the mattress she and Arturo had shared, sleeps on the floor. The night of Arturo’s death, Alma sits awake for hours, remembering the events of the day. The same officer who had told Alma that there was nothing he could do about Garrett Miller had come to the apartment right after Arturo left to look for Maribel, and when Alma suggested to him that Maribel’s disappearance might have had something to do with Garrett, the officer went over to Capitol Oaks—they arrived after Arturo had already been shot and took Garrett’s father into custody for having shot him. At the hospital, the officer assured Alma that Mr. Miller would be “locked up for a long time” and apologized to her for not having listened the first time.  
Alma considers the too-little too-late nature of justice in America, and the fact that when she first asked for help, no one believed her. Her grief turns to anger when she considers all of this, and the futility of the justice system in attempting to assure her that her husband’s killer will be held accountable for his act of unspeakable violence.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Alma thinks that if she could, she would kill Garrett and his father herself. As the sun rises, Alma looks back toward the mattress, hoping that Arturo will be sleeping there. 
Alma feels both rage and denial tugging at her as she descends into grief and mourning.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma does not blame Mayor Toro for what happened, but Celia comes by every day—sometimes twice a day—with food, clothes, and prayer notes from church. A woman from the hospital calls to ask Alma what she wants to do with Arturo’s body—though Alma wants Arturo buried in Mexico so that she can “honor him” and keep him near her, it will cost five thousand dollars to transport his body. Alma tells Celia that she and Maribel must return to Mexico—they have fallen out of status and the police now know. No matter what, Alma and Maribel will have to go back eventually.
As Alma must deal with the practical fallout of her husband’s death, she is almost numb to the blows that continue to come her way. The high cost of transporting Arturo’s body means he will have to be buried alone, in Delaware, and that she and Mirabel will not be able to stay in the place they have sacrificed so much to reach.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
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Many other tenants of the apartment building stop by to offer their condolences and small gifts—Gustavo Milhojas brings flowers, and Micho Alvarez brings a picture of Arturo that he took at the impromptu Christmas party at the Toros’. Even those who don’t bring anything tangible, like the Mercados, offer heartfelt remembrances of Arturo.
As the community comes together to remember Arturo and comfort Alma, she is able to take solace in the impact her husband had on their friends’ lives.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Alma speaks with Phyllis, the translator from the school district, and informs her that Maribel will not be continuing at Evers. Phyllis assures Alma that Maribel did well and that she is “a different girl than when [she] arrived.” Alma tells Phyllis that she, too, is different now.
This conversation with Phyllis, coupled with her neighbors’ heartfelt remembrances of Arturo, help to convince Alma that their journey to Delaware was not in vain.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma and Maribel pass the time receiving guests, watching television, and packing for their journey home. Alma keeps all of Arturo’s belongings and feels as if, throughout the days, he is still “everywhere.” Forced to bury Arturo in Delaware, Alma readies herself for the funeral—she is angry, and as she packs the kitchen, she smashes plates on the floor to relieve her grief.
Alma continues to work through her grief, attempting to hold onto what little pieces of Arturo she can as she prepares to effectively abandon his body in a foreign country, against her wishes.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
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Celia comes over the next morning to deliver an envelope—inside are “hundred[s]” of bills, and Celia explains that the community took up a collection—everyone from the building, along with people from Maribel’s school, the mushroom farm, the Mexican grocery, the hospital, and the church pitched in to raise over five thousand dollars and help Alma get Arturo’s body home. Celia tells Alma that everyone loved Arturo. Alma, overwhelmed, breaks down in tears. 
Alma is overcome by the kindness and generosity her community has shown her in taking up a collection to help Alma, Maribel, and even, in death, Arturo get home to México. This demonstrates clearly that the isolation Alma once felt in America has given way to a community that supports her. It’s sad that it’s only upon leaving America that Alma realizes how large and loving her community is.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Two days later, Alma and Maribel leave in a black pickup truck. Rafael has found someone to take them across the border and has, Alma assumes, paid their fee. Alma and Maribel’s belongings are stuffed in trash bags in the bed of the truck, and their driver does not speak to them—Alma is “grateful for his indifference.” As they drive through the country, Alma wonders if things would be different if she had told Arturo about Garrett earlier. She remembers one of the last things he ever said to her: “Forgive yourself.” She wonders if she can.
The Toros demonstrate even greater generosity by arranging for Alma and Maribel’s journey home. As they begin heading back to México, Alma, just like Mayor, attempts to trace the threads of blame backwards, but eventually sees both the futility of doing so, and the fact that attempting to compound her guilt goes directly against her husband’s final wishes for her.
Themes
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Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Six hours or so into the trip, Maribel complains of a stomachache. The driver pulls over, and Maribel gets out of the car and throws up. Alma holds Maribel’s hair, and when Maribel is done, she proclaims that she wants to cut it once they are home and dye it purple. Alma recognizes “her” Maribel in that moment and realizes that “maybe she had been here all along.” Alma laments having been “buried [so] far under [her] guilt” that she was unable to see the truth. Together, Alma and Maribel look forward to returning home as they get back in the car and resume their journey.
Alma’s realization that Maribel was never lost renews her hope, helps her to unbury herself from beneath her grief and guilt, and emboldens her to complete the journey home with the resolution of always moving forward and never again wasting time looking back in anger or in self-loathing.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The next morning, Alma looks out at the countryside and remembers something Arturo said to her on their way up to Delaware so many months ago: “Every place is beautiful if you give it a chance.” As she contemplates the journey that remains ahead of them, Alma asks Maribel how she is feeling—Maribel tells Alma that she is “fine,” and Alma is relieved. This is what she has “been waiting to hear the whole time.”
Alma is able to find a measure of peace as she considers her husband’s optimistic, resilient, and giving spirit. She feels that, despite all the loss she and Maribel have suffered, that they will be able to repair things going forward. Alma is finally able to accept that perhaps things will turn out “fine,” and that she is deserving of happiness, just as Arturo wanted so badly for her to believe she was.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon