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The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto…

The Hummingbird's Daughter (2005)

by Luis Alberto Urrea

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1,1535210,300 (4.15)194

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This compulsively readable novel buzzed with family drama based on memorable characters and engaging historic events. The author has an expansive style that I found reminiscent of the larger novels of John Steinbeck, like East of Eden, based on detailed depiction of character and family juxtaposed with adventures that were sometimes brutally realistic augmented by a lyrical depiction of nature.

The author uses the historical information he gathered over years of research to form the framework for a beautiful and lyrical story of a young girl’s coming-of-age and self-discovery during the politically unstable period in Mexican history preceding the revolution of 1910. Urrea fleshes out the characters, the period, the locations, and the trials and tribulations of daily life. He vividly depicts a time and place that was unfamiliar to this reader.

The novel is filled with beautiful lyricism, particularly in the first half, as in this passage describing the journey from Sinaloa to Sonora: "And in the trunks of the oldest trees, among the stones in the creek beds, buried in the soil, lying among the chips of stone kicked aside by the horses, the arrowheads of long-forgotten hunters, arrowheads misshot on a hot morning, arrowheads that passed through the breast of a raiding Guasave, gone to dust now like the bowman and scattered, arrowheads that brought down deer that fed wives and children and all of them gone, into the dirt, blowing into the eyes and raising tears that tumbled down the cheeks of Teresita."

Passages such as this one reveals Urrea’s background as a poet, as well as the extent of his research. The narrative is filled with descriptions of scenery and plant life: “Desert marigold. Threadleaf groundsel. Paleface flower. Texas silverleaf. Sage. Desert calico. Purple mat.” Food also figures prominently; many meals are described in full, such as the following: “[Don Tomás] ate chorizo and eggs, calabaza and papaya, a bowl of arroz cooked in tomato sauce with red onions sprinkled over it, coffee and boiled milk, and three sweet rolls.” To enhance the ambiance, Urrea throws in a mix of Spanish words and phrases: Don Tomás calls the men such uncomplimentary names as pinches cabrones and pendejos. There are exclamations of Por Dios! and lamentations such as Qué barbaridad! When a swarm of bees descends on a local cantina, the people cry Muchas abejas! When Don Tomás flirts with a local girl, he utters piropos, or compliments to flatter her.

Through Teresita’s eyes, the simple, traditional lifestyle of the Indians is contrasted with the more modern lifestyle of the wealthy whites. As a little girl, she is amazed by the grandeur of Don Tomás’s house; she gingerly climbs the steps, something she has never seen before leading up to the front door, then she tries the porcelain doorknob that allows her to enter into the equally amazing interior: the floors of polished wood (not dirt), the beautiful furnishings, a library full of books that only the educated white men (Don Tomás and Aguirre) can read, the grandfather clock, which she thinks is a tree with a heartbeat. This unauthorized first venture, like Alice’s into Wonderland, is what leads her aunt to beat her. Nevertheless, Teresita is eventually welcomed into the house permanently once her father realizes that she is his daughter.

Teresita, who adopted the name because she admired the Catholic Saint Teresa, blossoms into a beautiful young woman, sympathetic, kind, and with a unique sensibility which is the result of her dual upbringing. Don Tomás allows her to continue her apprenticeship with Huila as a curandera at the same time that he indoctrinates her in the ways of the Europeans. What Teresita learns about plants and other natural cures is combined with a peculiar dose of Catholicism as practiced by Huila and the rest of the native population, who still offer up a glass of tequila or a bolillo to God as their ancestors had done for their native gods. As with Saint Teresa, Teresita wishes to “ease suffering.” Hence, even before her miraculous arising from the dead, she has entered onto the pathway of her life’s work.

The narrative is an intriguing mix of horrific tragedy and Magical Realism. The brutality of the era figures constantly in the background, where whites slaughter Indians and Indians slaughter whites. There are mutilations, tortures, kidnappings. The People are starving, working under grueling conditions for their white masters, yet there is hope.

The book’s title derives from a nickname for Teresita’s mother. Cayetana was known as the hummingbird. The hummingbird was believed by the People to be a messenger of God. As with other messengers of God, Teresita is persecuted and driven from her home. The initial move of Don Tomás from Sinaloa to Sonora foreshadows their last and final move, from Mexico to the United States. The whole of the book blends historical fiction, family saga, and magical realism, all blended with a lyrical style that made this a great read. ( )
  jwhenderson | Sep 7, 2018 |
I love historical fiction in which the author creates a full-bodied story from detailed historical research. And I loved not knowing it was based on a real person until I finished the book and read the afterword. The only drawback I see in this story is my lack of understanding Spanish kept me from enjoying the story to the fullest. Usually, I was able to pick out the meaning of the Spanish words from the context. Even though I’ve traveled in Mexico, I’ve had trouble understanding how people could believe in living “saints”. This story helped me put that belief in miraculous healing in historical context. Diaz was not kind to the native Mexicans or mestizos. His policy of violence provided the background to the miraculous healing power of a young illegitimate girl who finally receives the blessing of her landowning father and his support in her healing and ministrations to the poor. ( )
  brangwinn | Jul 4, 2017 |
A sprawling, beautiful novel based on the life of "Santa" Teresa Urrea, an historical figure whose work among the poor and indigenous peoples of Sonora helped foment the Mexican Revolution. Urrea has a gift for lyrical language and page-turning narration. I also highly recommend his nonfiction book _The Devil's Highway_. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
2005, Back Bay Books/Little, Brown

Oh, what a treat you're in for if you haven't yet picked up The Hummingbird's Daughter. Written with a prose style so sharp and clean it flies along like the sprite in its title, this novel is a historical fiction piece based on a real woman.

Set during the time of the Mexican revolution, the story follows Teresita Urrea, a woman whose ability to heal others garners her the adoration reserved for saints. Starting with her early life, the narrative follows her family's upheaval as they relocate the household to a place still attacked by Apache warriors.

There the father builds their new home, expands his business, and through it all, watches helplessly as his daughter--who only late was acknowledged as his child--draws around her the people who all seek some type of healing.

Just as Teresita was denied her father's attention for the first years of her life, her teenage years are also not what might typically be found in the story of a saint. She suffers as much as any of the seekers who call her name. There are atrocities, some of which she witnesses being visited on others, and some of which are visited upon her. It is not always clear whether she will prevail.

Fortunately (for readers, anyway), there is a second book that continues this story. Urrea (the author) has also provided a glimpse into the strange and miraculous events that occurred while he researched this work; being able to read about these events arcs your thoughts back to the story and the compelling family met on these pages.

Pick this one up. You won't regret it, I promise.

5 stars!

If you'd like to read a similar novel after this one, try The Family Made of Dust: A Novel of Loss and Rebirth in the Australian Outback (formerly called Message Stick). ( )
  Laine-Cunningham | Oct 4, 2016 |
The Hummingbird's Daughter is an outstanding book. Louis Alberto Urrea's writing was simple but powerful. This is a story of a young girl, Teresa(Teresita), who becomes revered as a local saint in pre-revolutionary Mexico. I can only imagine the excitement and toll Mr. Urrea's 20 year research and writing had upon him. ( )
  WanderRoxyBooks | May 5, 2016 |
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Truth is everything. Of truth I have no fear. In truth I see no shame. -- Teresita Urrea
Truth, for tyrants, is the most terrible and cruel of all bindings: it is like an incandescent iron falling across their chests. And it is even more agonizing than hot iron, for that only burns the flesh, with Truth burns its way into the soul. -- Lauro Aguirre
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On the cool October morning when Cayetana Chavez brought her baby to light, it was the start of that season in Sinaloa when humid torments of summer finally gave way to breezes and falling leaves, and small red birds skittered through the corrals, and the dogs grew new coats.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316154520, Paperback)

The prizewinning writer Luis Alberto Urrea's long-awaited novel is an epic mystical drama of a young woman's sudden sainthood in late 19th-century Mexico.It is 1889, and civil war is brewing in Mexico. A 16-year-old girl, Teresita, illegitimate but beloved daughter of the wealthy and powerful rancher Don Tomas Urrea, wakes from the strangest dream--a dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream. This passionate and rebellious young woman has arisen from death with a power to heal--but it will take all her faith to endure the trials that await her and her family now that she has become the Saint of Cabora.THE HUMMINGBIRD?S DAUGHTER is a vast, hugely satisfying novel of love and loss, joy and pain. Two decades in the writing, this is the masterpiece that Luis Alberto Urrea has been building up to.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When sixteen-year-old Teresita, the illegitimate daughter of a late-nineteenth-century rancher, arises from death possessing the power to heal, she is declared a saint and finds her faith tested by the impending Mexican civil war.

» see all 3 descriptions

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Luis Alberto Urrea is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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