by Raul Ramos y Sanchez
Grand Central Publishing | 320 pages | $13.95
Reviewed by Michael Carey
There are growing debates over immigration and reform pushing its way up Capitol Hill. Fear and an atmosphere of terror still linger over the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks. The combination of these issues has great potential for disastrous circumstances. As questionable legislature like the Arizona law known as SB1070 (which has opened the door to racial profiling) pass, the near future has many bleak possibilities.
A future in which the passing of more oppressive laws and growing violence has led to Hispanics being deemed second rate citizens, to be separated from the rest of the of the nation, is the setting for Raul Ramos y Sanchez’s new novel, House Divided. This is the second episode in a planned trilogy that began with the award winning America Libre, and picks up where it left off. American Libre, Spanish for ‘Free America,’ takes place in the second decade of the 21st century. Violence and fear, rising in the Hispanic communities around the U.S., have escalated and garnered attention in the global spotlight.
The first book introduces some of the main characters, including the protagonist, Manolo ‘Mano’ Suarez, an ex-Army Ranger, torn between his people and his country. The growing troubles and unrest set the stage for an oppressive legislation, the construction of Quarantine Zones to house the newly created ‘Class H’ citizens, the rise of a Hispanic liberation movement and the Marcha Offensive that occurs the day before House Divided begins.
There we find Mano Suarez, struggling to find the salvation of the Hispanic Republic of North America’s cause after losing much of their resources in an attack on strategic U.S. targets. He has been reunited with the remainder of his family, his wife, Rosa, and their son, Pedro. Suarez struggles to keep them safe and together while advancing the cause of their people. He finds that there is a time to fight, and a time to regain strength and plan, even though these notions seem contrary to their culture of courage and ‘cojones’.
As the leaders of both sides play a chess game of politics, public opinion, terror, media coverage and action, we get to know many characters who line up to play their parts. Some are worthy of admiration despite their ties, ethnic origins, resolve, or actions, while others seem despicable from the start. The leaders of the HRNA have lost communications following the Marcha Offensive, leaving Mano the task of helping his people become self-sufficient, and focusing on strengthening their cause during the U.S. government’s crack-down on the Quarantine Zones.
However, a terrorist faction emerges, trigger-happy, and convinced that the Hispanic desire to fight will decrease with time. They try to rouse the U.S. into mistreating their people and to binding the inhabitants of the Quarantine Zones together, thereby driving them to strike back. Pedro, disgusted by his father’s refusal to fight, joins the terrorists. His eyes are opened as he tries to discern what is right and fights to overcome his own anger, pride, and preconceived notions of courage and what makes a man. Pedro’s new friends land him in a hairy situation and we ultimately question whether Mano will be able to save his son and the future of his people.
The storyline carries us through this tragic future that oddly does not seem as far-fetched as when Sanchez started the series in 2004. The current political climate and many voices in America have made the setting of House Divided more imaginable. And who better to weave this stunning and enthralling tale than Ramos? He has an amazing story of his own that gives him personal experiences with insurgents and revolution. A son and kin to active supporters of Castro’s rise to power, the author of House Divided moved to New York City with his mother at the age of seven, but spent summers with his father in Cuba and received military weapons training at eleven years old. He has seen first hand “how some leaders use hate, fear, and patriotism for their own ends.”
No matter where the reader stands on immigration, Sanchez’s message of “the dangers of extremism – on both sides of this explosive issue” is especially imperative. Ramos warns, “the potential for a wide spread conflict lurks behind every escalation of our current war of words.”
His involvement in the Hispanic community, developing a documentary, Two Americas: The Legacy of our Hemisphere, and hosting MyImmigrationStory.com, an online forum for the U.S. immigrant community, is clearly an influence on his writing. He relays the diversity of the population called ‘Hispanic,’ comparing (through the insight of a character) the labeling of these people to “lumping everyone from a nation that speaks English into a single group.” Ramos points out the diverse and rich cultures of the ‘Hispanic’ population, but he also shows the similarities they share with all people and cultures, in family, friends, and the desire to live free.
I found House Divided easy to appreciate as a story of its own accord and I look forward to reading the conclusion of this riveting trilogy.