“The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea, Little Brown and Company. 336 pages
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his landmark work of nonfiction “The Devil’s Highway,” Luis Alberto Urrea is also the bestselling author of the novels “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” “Into the Beautiful North” and “Queen of America,” as well as the story collection “The Water Museum,” a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist. He has won the Lannan Literary Award, an Edgar Award, and a 2017 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, among many other honors. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, he lives outside Chicago and teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “The House of Broken Angels” is a multi-generational family saga told through flashbacks and moves between San Diego to La Paz and Tijuana. It reminds us of our history and the remarkable stories and immigrant journeys to the United States.
Luis Urrea was born to an American mother and Mexican father who always felt like there was a border wall in his home with the kitchen the United States and the living room Mexico. He has written since high school and wrote about dealing with his father’s horrific and untimely death. The happy ending was that Ursula Le Guin came to his college and helped him become an author.
Urrea describes his novel, as a Mexican Finnegans Wake. He sees it a cultural statement and an epic. “The House of Broken Angels” is a party and funeral at the same time. The first sentence hooks you and makes you want to keep reading. “Big Angel was late to his own mother’s funeral.” Based loosely on his brother’s death, the main character, Big Angel is the patriarch of a large Mexican-American family, who has terminal cancer. He has gathered the extended de la Cruz family for a weekend with his mother’s funeral on Saturday and his last birthday party on Sunday. The novel is full of life and spirit and joy. At its heart this a novel about being alive. Big Angel is grateful for his wife, family, the power of memory and what an incredible story he tells. The family is not perfect and various members struggle with addiction, alienation and thwarted dreams and ambitions. Big Angel’s wife Perla is undocumented and crossed the border with her husband when they were teenagers. The family history recounted here involves relocations to Mexico and returns to the United States, depending on the changing tides of economic conditions. Everyone is a performer in some way, who shows extraordinary courage and vulnerability. Among other things, you are treated to a full mariachi band, a drag show, a heavy metal band, a secret Lego world and so much more. This book positively overflows with the joy of family. At the end, we are reminded of the important trait binding all immigrant families. Thanking his daughter for the party, Big Angel tells her: “All we do mija is love. Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death.”
Luba Sawczyn is the Branch Manager of the Graham Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 570-6730