Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter


 When I first encountered Luis Alberto Urrea, I read his novel House of Broken Angels, and was particularly fascinated with how well he wrote from women's points of view. The book was a modern family tale complicated in the way families are. I went on this year to read Goodnight Irene,  the story influenced by his mother's experience as one of the Red Cross "Donut Dollies" during WWII.

I stumbled across The Hummingbird's Daughter and started listening to the audiobook, unaware when the book was written. Only after I finished did I learn that it had been awarded the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize in 2006--not a new book after all. But this one is another sprawling tale, this time set in Mexico in the late 19th century. Teresita, the main character, was born to a poor 14-year-old Indian girl and abandoned with her abusive aunt before Huila, the local healer--considered by many a witch--takes her in as her apprentice

Eventually, she comes to the attention of Don Tom├ís Urrea, the wealthy rancher. The relationships between the different social classes is complicated since Urrea, a philanderer, is the apparent father not only of Teresita but other children as well. The book is reminiscent of the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When she is fatally attacked but returns to life before her burial, the attention draws swarms of pilgrims hoping for healing. 

Urrea worked almost twenty years on the novel, based on historical characters to whom he may share kinship. He explains in the afterword that in some areas Teresita is still revered as Saint of Cabora. The writing is particularly strong, with well-drawn, layered characters and details both powerful, painful, and at times, humorous. 

Before I was halfway through the book, I was thinking of friends to whom I needed to recommend it. That's the ultimate reading experience--one I want to share.


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