Classic Book Review: “The Hummingbird’s Daughter”

In preparation for Luis Alberto Urrea’s upcoming Queen of America, I wanted to read its predecessor, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, which was published in 2005. I was intimidated by the 500-page book and its serious description on the book cover, but I shouldn’t have been. Every page was a joy to read.

Daughter, which takes place in the 1800s in a small Mexican village, centers on Teresita, who was born out of wedlock and is abandoned by her mother, Cayetana, but she is later groomed by her father, the womanizing ranch owner Tomás Urrea.

As the story progresses, Teresita discovers has powers of healing. But rebels are stirring up a revolution in Mexico while hundreds of villagers are flocking to Teresita so she will cure them. Soon, the two forces collide.

Besides the tightly paced plot, Urrea imbues Daughter with rich language. One character “had the face of an Aztec carving.” In another passage, Urrea compares the villagers’ complexion to a character’s drink: “Every Mexican was a diluted Indian, invaded by milk like the coffee in Cayetana’s cup.”

Urrea knows how to build tension in a scene – and put in some comic relief, too. Sometimes, he accomplishes it all in one scene, such as when Tomás’s wife, Loreto, confronts him about an affair as several friends, including two named Aguirre and Huila, watch:

“Loreto slapped Tomás.

He spluttered an obscenity.

She slapped his other check.

He raised his hand.

Aguirre rose.

Huila, watching, clenched her hands – this was even better than she’d hoped!”

Here’s another great line: “If you are too blind to see God in Goddamned taco, then you are truly blind.”

And another: “A Mennonite missionary had moved through the ranchos assuring them that Jesus Christ would return to earth by 1880 – maybe He was early.”

Daughter was a fantastic read. I can’t wait for Queen of America.

More about Luis Alberto Urrea:

• Urrea is just as witty in his Twitter and Facebook feeds. His website features a blog, readings from Queen of America and upcoming appearances. Queen of America will be released in December.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Classic Books, Fiction

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