Posted by: biblioglobal | July 2, 2015

Ecuador: From Cuenca to Queens (Book-from-every-country #68)

1748434One of the things I remember from my trip to Ecuador several years ago is how nearly every Ecuadorian I met there asked where in the United States I was from. At the time I was living in upstate New York, and when I replied that I lived in New York, they always told me that they had a relative- a brother, a cousin, or an uncle- who was living or had lived in New York. I found it remarkable that so many people had relatives in New York, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough to have a real conversation about it with anyone.

So when I read a recommendation of the book From Cuenca to Queens by Ann Miles, from Eva at A Striped Armchair, I knew I had to read it as my book for Ecuador. Especially because I visited Cuenca while I was in Ecuador and many of the people who told me about their relatives in New York lived in Cuenca.

From Cuenca to Queens is essentially the story of an anthropologist working in Ecuador and an Ecuadorian family whose oldest son moved to New York City to try to earn money and help out the family. I think it is intended to be an academic book, but it reads very much as a story, so long as you don’t let yourself get too bogged down in the occasional discussion of anthropological theories. Mostly Ann Miles tells the history of her interactions with the Quitasaca family and then presents the text of her interviews with each of the family members in turn. The interviews are also structured chronologically, so as I read, I learned about how the family fared over time. I was constantly rooting for them. The story ends in 2002 and I find myself wondering about the Quitasacas and hoping that they are doing well.

Walking an Incan trail

Walking part of an Incan trail near Cuenca

I find that there is a lot of synergy between traveling to Ecuador and reading this book. When I talked to people in Ecuador, I didn’t have much of a sense what it likely meant to them to have a relative in New York- that their relative had most likely traveled illegally, that the relative may have been an important source of money, that the migration may have changed family dynamics in important ways. At the same time, I think I connected to the book much more strongly because of having been there, because of having ridden the bus route between Guayaquil and Cuenca that Lucho Quitasaca sometimes drove, because of having met, however briefly, people with similar experiences.

From Cuenca to Queens also reinforced my growing appreciation for oral history as a way of learning about the world, which began with The Antelope’s Story and continued with A False Dawn.

The beautiful forest at the Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve.

The beautiful forest at the Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve.


  1. wonderful review….your reviews not only make me want to read the particular book, but also brings home the fact that I really really need to travel a LOT more!

    • Thanks! Ecuador is one of the few countries on my reading list that I have actually visited. The problem is, I enjoyed it so much that I want to go back there when I next get the chance, rather than going somewhere new!

  2. That’s very interesting that many of the people you met there had a family member who went to NY. And it does help when reading books like this to have some personal experience with the place.

    • I was quite surprised by it at the time because I didn’t know that New York City had such a big Ecuadorian community.

      I enjoyed seeing your Shaun the Sheep photos at the Tower of London. I was lucky enough to happen to be in London at the right time to see the Shaun statues, after having been jealous to have missed Paddington!

  3. Thought of you this weekend when I was listening to Books on the Nighstand. They were talking about a great book concerning the Philippines. I’m not sure if you have one lined up, but they really seemed to like it: In the Country by Mia Alvar.

    • No, I haven’t picked anything for the Philippines yet. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. It’s so great you’ve been to Ecuador!
    I met a girl from Ecuador a few months ago here in Budapest. I asked her to recommend a book or two by Ecuadorian authors, and she recommended Alicia Yanez Cossio, so I immediately made an order. Reading your post now makes me want to drop everything, and start reading the book I got. Thank you for the inspiration! 🙂

    • Ooh, thanks for sharing the recommendation! I added it to my reading list.

  5. How wonderful you found a book from Ecuador that fit together some puzzle pieces from your time there! It seems such a congruence would make the book twice as meaningful and that is always a lovely thing.

    • It was definitely some nice serendipity to come across it!

      I just finished reading a book titled “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating”, described on the back cover as “the earthly adventures of a woman and a gastropod”. It seems like a book you might also enjoy.

      • I’ve heard of that one but was not too sure about it. It was good? Will you be writing about it?

      • I really enjoyed the observations of snail life and her inclusion of bits of things other people have had to say about snails. You have to be okay with reading about illness though, because that’s also part of the story. I’m not planning on writing about it, since I’m quite behind just trying to write about my book-from-every-country books.

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