Luis Alberto Urrea has done it again.
Urrea has released his new book, Queen of America (Little, Brown), the sequel to his brilliant 2005 novel, The Hummingbird’s Daughter. And while the tone of the books is different, the book is classic Urrea.
In Daughter, Teresita Urrea (the author’s great aunt) discovered her healing powers, earning her the name “Saint of Cabora” and leading an uprising of Mexican revolutionaries that prompted her and her father to escape to the north. America describes her journey to the United States, taking her from Arizona to El Paso to California to St. Louis to New York City. Teresita finds love along the way, but she also realizes the negative effects of being a celebrity, such as in this passage when she thinks about how her friends think of her now:
“They had once been her neighbors and friends, and then they become her followers. She felt a small chill of horror. Followers! It was terrible to have followers. But it was more terrible that part of her liked it.
Of course, she could not control her fanatics, only herself. Balance, again. When she had followers, she was watched over by the government and the newspapers. People copied her words in notebooks. She caught herself wondering what she had said and worrying all night if this time her careless utterances would lead to someone’s death or some outbreak of madness she could not have foreseen. Sometimes you just want to speak without measuring your words! Sometimes you want to laugh and sing! Sometimes you just want to ride your horse!”
That passage shows why Urrea is such a great writer. He’s just so much fun to read. Besides his beautiful descriptions and witty dialogue, he also creates some memorable characters, such as Teresita’s father, Don Tómas. His selfishness, arrogance and lack of self-awareness brings some of the biggest laughs in the book.
Check out this dialogue between Teresita and Tómas:
“‘I never said I was a saint … I am a prophet.’
‘Oh God, no,’ he said. ‘What you are is nineteen years old.’”
Or read this conversation between Tómas and a businessman seeking to exploit Teresita:
“‘You will provide for her with your Consortium profits. You incorporate. Partners. But structured so that she can honestly say she took nothing. It will honor her, shall we say, religious beliefs.’
‘I love America,’ Tómas said.”
But Tómas is absent from the last half of the book as Queen focuses mostly on Teresita’s journey. And then the book becomes somber, as Teresita realizes that not everyone has the best intentions for her and she yearns to return to her homeland. The reader becomes a bit melancholy, too, as another great book comes to an end.
• Urrea spent 26 years researching and writing The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America, and he did it while writing other books, such as Into the Beautiful North and the non-fiction The Devil’s Highway.