Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

From one of America's most beloved authors, a tale of miracles and passion

Teresita is not an ordinary girl. Born of an illiterate, poor Indian mother, she knows little about her past or her future. She has no idea that her father is Don Tomas Urrea, the wild and rich owner of a vast ranch in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. She has no idea that Huila, the elderly healer who takes Teresita under her wing, knows secrets about her destiny. And she has no idea that soon all of Mexico will rise in revolution, crying out her name.

When Teresita is but a teenager, learning from Huila the way plants can cure the sick and prayer can move the earth, she discovers an even greater gift: she has the power to heal. Her touch, like warm honey, melts pain and suffering. But such a gift can be a burden, too. Before long, the Urrea ranch is crowded with pilgrims and with agents of a Mexican government wary of anything that might threaten its power.

A spectacular novel as grand as a western sunset The Hummingbird's daughter is the story of a girl coming to terms with her destiny, with the miraculous, and with the power of faith. It is the tale of a father discovering what true love is and a daughter recognizing that sometimes true love requires true sacrifice. Full of cowboys and outlaws, Indian warriors and cantina beauties, silly men who drink too much and desert women who in their dreams travel to the seashore. The Hummingbird's Daughter is Luis Urrea's majestic masterpiece, the story of one girl's life and the swollen heart of all Mexico.

This book was selected in a group that I was in where the idea was to travel around the world in 80 books - reading books set in a variety of different countries, and with various themes. Whilst I no longer read with the group very often, this book did sound very interesting, so I still decided to pick it up!

I'm not sure why but I have a bit of a review block on this one! It's definitely not because I didn't enjoy it because I did. It's just that I can't think what to say...perhaps because I finished it too long ago, but anyway should probably just write the darned thing because I said to myself that I wasn't going to write any more reviews until I had done this one, so now I have a big backlog!

Teresita is born to a poor young woman - a result of a liaison with Tomas Urrea, the good looking, and married, owner of the ranch. It isn't too long before Teresita's mother leaves her for good, left to survive in a hovel with her aunt who beats her and treats her horridly. Even with this treatment though, there is something special about Teresita, and it isn't long before she is spending time with the local medicine woman, Huila, learning many of the secrets of the earth, medicine and midwifery.

And really that would have been her life if something amazing hadn't happened to her. After being attacked she is left for dead, and does indeed seem to die, but she comes to life again after a couple of days, and is suddenly perceived as being a saint - able to perform miracles. The church proclaims her as a heretic, but that does not stop the people from coming. Her family's home is surrounded (by this time Tomas has accepted her as his daughter) by people looking for miracles. Because of some of her more liberal beliefs, the family comes to the attention of the government and so amongst all the people searching for miracles, there are also the revolutionaries who are attracted to her message, at first somewhat sceptically but eventually wholeheartedly, and then the government forces who are trying to put down the guerrilla war being fought against them. This volatile mix of people inevitably leads to trouble, but can the miracle working Teresita stop it from becoming a total tragedy?

In the author note to this book, the author talks about how this book took him nearly twenty years to research and write, and you can really tell it was a labour of love. The main character was actually his great aunt, so the book is a combination of loving homage to an amazing character, part Mexican history (predominantly set in the late 1890's), part magical realism, part study of the Yaquis and other native tribes of Mexico.

I did struggle at first to get into this book. The tone and language took a little while to get used to, but by the end I was totally engrossed. The author was very good at balancing the various elements with healthy doses of humour. One of my favourite characters was Tomas - a man who could not seem to help himself, until he fell completely in love with the daughter of the local shopkeeper, Gabby, much to his wife's chagrin, but he had such charm, that he managed to come to arrangement with both his wife and his mistress. Normally that would not be something that I would like in a character but he was very entertaining - a man driven to distraction by his loves, his family, and then by the events surrounding his unruly daughter!

I haven't read much about Mexico, so for me this was a pretty much completely new setting, and I really enjoyed it.

Rating: 4.5/5

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