Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Review: The Hummingbird's Daughter

Michael Sedano

What's an honorable man to do when his illegitimate children force a father's acknowledgement? In Don Tomas Urrea's case, he abandons his wife and children in town and moves out to the rancho to be with the daughter and son he fathered out of sundry dalliances. When the daughter rises from the dead and commences healing the sick, Luis Alberto Urrea's novel takes a wonderful turn from the merely interesting to the arrestingly bizarre.

Given the novel's 499 pages, Urrea has the luxury of spinning out an elaborate set of circumstances and allowing the various forces to play out against one another. Teresita's mean-hearted aunt brutalizes the child until Huila steps forth. The old india takes Teresa as a pupil, teaching her desert herbs, plant medicine, and indigenous philosophy. Urrea blends the story of the two curanderas with that of Teresa's father Tomas and the engineer Lauro Aguirre. They are an ideal combination of leader and genius. Aguirre's inventiveness makes the 1880s Mexican frontier desert bloom to agricultural richness. Don Tomas' leadership wins friends with the Yaqui to ensure his remains a peaceful Eden.

Gardeners, desert lovers, and the like, will enjoy Urrea's passion for the land.The descriptions the various honeys Don Tomas' lands produce should help sales. Unfortunately, his explanation of the curative uses of herbs doesn't go far enough, except for the comic effect of the marijuana smoke in the beekeeper scenes. In his afterword, Urrea demurs on the latter, claiming allegiance to indio informants not to take that part of the novel too far into family secrets. Urrea claims Teresita as an aunt.

The Hummingbird's Daughter, although dealing with Mexico's ugly history comes with a large helping of humor. Indeed, the entire predicament that Don Tomas finds himself in is a total hoot. What can a father do when teeming multitudes invade his hacienda, beseeching his risen-from-the-dead child to heal the sick and raise the dead? Give her his 100% support. This, in turn, leads to one worse disaster after another. They flee. They are caught. Imprisoned. Tortured. Rescued, only to find themselves the bait in a nefarious ambush.

I'm happy to learn from La Bloga that The Hummingbird's Daughter is coming to paperback. This fun novel deserves the much wider audience it'll get.

For now, barring one of Teresita's miracles, that's it until next week. Hay les wachamos.


1 comment:

daniel olivas said...

Good review and perfect timing: The Hummingbird's Daughter is a finalist in fiction for the Pacific Rim Voices Kiriyama Prize. It's the 10th annual award. I'm told that the real news is that Urrea is the first author ever to be a finalist for the award in both fiction and nonfiction. You can read more at www.kiriyamaprize.org.