The Hummingbird's Daughter (Little, Brown and Company: New York), by Luis Alberto Urrea, is a long, entertaining novel about pre-revolutionary Mexico and the Saint of Cabora, Teresita Urrea. Urrea, the writer, mixes magical realism, liberation theology, Mexican rancho politics and mores, and the machinations of the Porfiriato to concoct a story that has the sense of truth of a family legend, at once historical and apocryphal, but always enjoyable in the telling.
Tómas Urrea, master of a rancho in Sinaloa, begets child after child, some with his wife Loreto, and others with whatever young girl strikes his fancy. One tryst with Cayetana (a.k.a. 'the Hummingbird') yields a somewhat mysterious girl, Teresita, who possesses a red triangle on her forehead, a sign of curandera power. Huila, midwife and healer, and one of the few women Tómas respects and even fears on his ranch, eventually takes the young Teresita under her wing.
Meanwhile, Teresita is trying to understand her powers: how and why
she sees the vibrations or penumbras of people, and how her hands become hot on
command. At one point in the novel, Teresita takes her friends, including Gabriela who also
becomes Tómas's young lover, on dream-trips to cities
and coastlines in the middle of the night.
Over time, Teresita's healing powers and
reputation grow to the point where thousands of pilgrims surround the ranch and
seek her help and protection. Only Teresita's presence and touch will relieve the
back-breaking poverty and misery of la gente decente of northern
Tómas Urrea's arrogant machismo
steers him into trouble not only with his wife, whom he banishes from his ranch
so he can be with Gabriela, but also with the dictator of
The Hummingbird's Daughter, although a thick book, is actually a quick read. Page after page is full of sparse, crisp dialogue, which keeps the plot moving quickly and often effortlessly forward. Urrea, the writer, did not italicize the Spanish in the book, which is a good way for the English reader to enter a border world where Spanish and English have melded into this third language.
Toward the end of
the novel, Teresita, the Saint of Cabora,
does become preachy and abstract, and her liberation theology, a political and
religious philosophy of the 1960s, seems strangely placed in pre-revolutionary
This newspaper article
appeared in the Sunday Books section of the El
Paso Times on