by Luis Alberto Urrea Print book : Fiction  |  1st ed
Review: The Hummingbird's Daughter   (2013-03-27)
Without a doubt, this book was captivating. I was engrossed from the first chapter.
The story revolves around Teresita Urrea, who experiences an apotheosis. The plot is essentially her transformation from a bastard child into a mystical figurehead of her region of Mexico. Her apprenticeship under Huila, the ranch curandera (medicine woman who practices healing techniques passed down from the Maya) leads her to take her role after she dies. Although, Teresita is a more entangled member than ever expected. For Teresita is the daughter of Don Tomas, the head of the ranch, and a young native woman who absconds soon after her birth. She becomes, by virtue of destiny and action, Teresita the Saint of Cabora.
I truly enjoyed the interplay of language in this story. My knowledge of Spanish was pleasurably pushed to new levels, as the author does not provide translation very often. The use of Spanish was usually in the form of dialogue and therefore not literary Spanish, taking on heavy slang and improper use. This made it all the more fun. Also, the use of some native words were scattered throughout and usually the author would explain their meaning in context which is very enlightening.
One of my favorite chapters is 23, in Book III (The Honey and the Blood). This chapter describes the bees kept by the ranch for the cultivation of flowering crops. The chapter intersperses lists of plants that are beautiful to read out loud: "Fagonia. Ratany. Filareestorkbill. Indian blanket. Daises. Phocelia. Trumpet flowers. Purple groundberries. Burrobrush. Mormon tea." These role off the tongue like honey.
Interestingly, there is a connection between the legend of Teresita and the author. Apparently they are distantly related and the Mr. Urrea grew up hearing stories of his relative passed through time. At the end of the copy of the book I borrowed, there is a "Reading Group Guide" which provides a short interview of Mr. Urrea and a short essay by him about writing the novel. These are fascinating to read. In the interview, he is asked what soundtrack would go with the book and he mentions a Mexican group Tribu (all shamans), drums, crickets and Lila Downs.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in Mexican folklore, feminism, shamanism, mysticism, and indigenous people's rights.
Quote - "She heard a hum above her head. She looked up: a hummingbird made of sky came down from the heavens. It was too small to be seen, yet she could see it. Its blue breast reflected the world as it descended. Its wings were white, made of writing. Although she did not have words, she recognized them. The hummingbird's wings had been written with a quill pen."
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