Archive for the ‘Rudolfo Anaya’ Category

The Hummingbird’s Daughter

May 1, 2008

Just finished the book this morning on the train.  Urrea is quickly becoming my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint.  The Hummingbird’s Daughter is like a grown up’s version of Bless Me UltimaUltima is a coming of age story of a young Mexican-American boy who learns life lessons from Ultima, the local curandera who moves into his house in her old age.  In Hummingbird, the old curandera is named Huila, and she is definitely no Ultima.  Huila is a crass old lady.  She drinks and curses like a sailor, she walks around the ranch with a shot gun across her chest and keeps her herbs in a dead man’s ball sack.  She’s great.  But anyway, the hummingbird’s daughter is actually Teresita Urrea, born out of wedlock to an Indian ranch worker and the ranch patron, Tomas Urrea.  Under the teaching of Huila and a desert medicine man named Manuelito, Teresita becomes a skilled healer and political and spiritual leader for local Indian tribes.  Indians from all over make pilgrimages to see her and be healed by her.  She tells the pilgrims that since their land is given to them by God, only God can take away that land, and not the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz.  She is considered a saint by the Indians, and a dangerous political enemy by the government.   

I said this about The Devil’s Highway and I’ll say it again here.  The reason why I enjoy Urrea’s writing is all the details.  He does not hold back in describing the sad state of poor Indians pilgrims seeking out Teresita’s help (lice, fleas, open wounds covered in worms and maggots, open sores leaking out pus, diarrhea from bad food and water, etc.)  Urrea takes about a paragraph to describe what the characters are eating for breakfast and dinner and it makes me crave Mexican food so badly.  The details that he adds never weights the story down, they’re part of this story.  This is not like a Steinbeck novel where an entire chapter is about the geography of the Salinas Valley.  (Don’t get me wrong, East of Eden is one of my favorite books, but you know what I mean)

This book was a joy to read because of dialogue.  It is witty, sharp, and just fun to read.  Urrea uses profanity quite a bit in this book, but is never overused.  All of his characters, even the minor ones, are well developed and memorable.  I really liked Tomas’ relationship with his friends, the educated engineer Lauro and the top ranch hand Segundo.  I think I had a smile on my face the entire time I read this novel.    It is that good.

The coolest thing about this book is that Teresita Urrea was a real person and her story is documented in Mexican and U.S. newspapers.  She is a distant relative of the author and he spent 20 years researching this novel.  He offers more Teresita details on his website.

I don’t know what to read next, if anyone has recommendations, let me know.

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Bless Me, Ultima

January 30, 2008

Since I wrote my last post about moving out and the amazing apartment in Brooklyn, all of my plans have fallen to pieces. Nothing worked out how I anticipated, everything became one big mess. And I’m afraid that nothing will be the same between me and my (former) perspective roommate, who also is (maybe was?) one of my closests friends. We have not spoken since the fall-out of our plans and I feel awful but at the same time proud of myself for making a decision that was best for me, not everyone else around me. However, as of today I still have no apartment and no roommate.

Through all this drama I have been reading Bless Me, Ultima and this book was completely captivating. I wanted to read it because it is one the boyfriend’s favorite books and I wanted to read something that was important to him. I think this book is an example of magical realism, where things like witches, curses, forces of evil, spells, shamans and miracles are just a part of everyday life. This book asks questions that I have held to myself since childhood (for reference, I grew up in a strict Irish-Catholic family). If God is supposed to be all loving and forgiving, why is there still so much suffering and evil in the world? The main character, a seven year old by named Antonio, spends a great deal of time thinking about religion and the conflicts between native pagan Gods, the Catholic God, and the saints. How come a pagan healing ritual cured his sick uncle when prayers by the priest to the Catholic God failed? How come his mother prays to the Virgin of Guadalupe instead of to God? How can you believe in just one God if there are so many other forces at work?
I had strange dreams while reading this book. This book is mysterious and has many secrets. It asks questions but does not fully answer them. Ultima seems to know the answers to everything but we don’t know why and we never get to know all that she knows. This story took my mind off all that was happening in my life and helped me not to take everything so seriously. So my plans to move fell through but I am lucky I have other options available to me and I can continue living at home if I need to. There is so much more to life than what we preceive.