cover image A Beginner’s Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious

A Beginner’s Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious

Roya Hakakian. Knopf, $26.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-65606-7

Journalist and poet Hakakian (Assassins of the Turquoise Palace) offers a poignant and richly observed account of the immigrant’s experience of America. Drawing on recollections of her own journey from Iran to the U.S. in 1984, Hakakian describes customs officials indifferently sorting through luggage (“this is how America welcomes everyone: by preparing them for anonymity”); notes the strange sight of “full-bellied pet dogs, not banned by any edicts, cockily walking at the side of their owners”; and advises new arrivals that soap operas are better for learning English than news programs. Once the immigrant has established herself, Hakakian writes, she will enter the “tribe of Nowhereians,” disowned by her countrymen and viewed as “from elsewhere” by Americans. But even today, she contends, when shifting demographics have sparked an anti-immigrant backlash, naturalized citizens have a greater chance of success than some who are native-born and “do not have a tale to tell themselves other than one of failure, betrayal, and hopelessness.” Hakakian’s portrait largely excludes those forced to enter the country illegally, or unable to find adequate means of support, but she captures the immigrant’s twinned sense of hope and loss with lyrical precision. Readers will salute this astute and sincere look at what it means to “be remade” on American soil. (Mar.)