Maybe I should recuse myself because I’m so partial to magical realism, but I think from any perspective whatsover, The Hummingbird’s Daughter is a joy of a book. Luis Urrea is dealing here not just with history, but the history and politics of his family and of his family’s native land.
So, family saga/historical fiction, politics, religion (“Even worse than politics,” says one Captain), revolution, and more. A rich mix that would defeat a lesser writer, but Urrea is unquestionably up to the challenge.
We begin in the 1870’s when a Mexican Patron impregnates a young peasant girl, who walks away from her infant daughter. Said daughter turns out to be a precocious child and falls under the tutelage of the rancho’s curadora or healer/midwife. These people deal in spiritual matters every but as much as they do in herbs, and Huila, as the old woman is named, can spot a dreamer when she sees one. “Teresita” (as she names herself) soon becomes expert and understanding and guiding not only her dreams but those of others.
How this all affects the war between Porfirio Diaz and Mexico’s indigenous people, how it affects the life of the author, how it affects thousands of sick and ignorant nineteenth century people looking for any sign of hope in their poverty and misery, how women fare in a world of war and macho men–that’s the book. And I don’t want to tell more because it needs to be experienced in the writing rather than just talked about. And the experience is transporting.
The obvious reminders here are Garcia-Marquez and Allende, but influenced as he is by such, Urrea is his own man, and The Hummingbird’s Daughter, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer, deserved the prize. I don’t know if it was competing in the same year as The Tinkers (See Writer Working, March 13 ’11), which won one, but if so, boy, howdy, did the committee misfire.
The reason I picked this book up is that Urrea will be the leader of my group at the Tin House Writers’ workshop in Portland this summer. I’d never read anything of his before. Now I have, and “pleased” doesn’t begin to express how I much I’m looking forward.