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Book Club Thu Feb 15 2007

The Hummingbird's Daughter

The Hummingbird's Daughter
by Luis Alberto Urrea
(Back Bay Books, 2005; 499 pages)

Our March book is The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, an epic novel about the life of Teresita, the Saint of Cabora. The story is a fictionalized biography of the author's real-life great aunt, a woman some regard as Mexico's Joan of Arc.

Teresita was born in Mexico in the late 19th century, the illegitimate daughter of a powerful rancher, Tomás Urrea, and a 14-year-old Indian girl, Cayetana Chávez, who works on the ranch. Teresita grows up on the ranch and shows a great gift for healing. An old Indian midwife and healer, Huila, takes Teresita under her care and tutelage. One day Teresita is brutally assaulted and murdered by miner, but she rises from the dead at her memorial, and her healing powers only seem to multiply. As her story spreads, she attracts thousands of pilgrims who declare her a saint, even as the Church denounces her as a heretic. Finally, when the government blames her for inciting an Indian uprising, Teresita must flee her country or face a death sentence.

This is not a short book. The Hummingbird's Daughter is fully 500 pages long, but the pages fly past rather quickly. (I promise.) Urrea's prose seems effortless. The narrative is straightforward, yet graceful, and the imagery is vivid. The world of late 19th century Mexico rises up from the pages and surrounds the reader like a dream.

The Hummingbird's Daughter received much critical acclaim when it was first published in 2005. The New York Times Book Review said, "Teresita is a saint we could really use right now, and I fervently hope she can be summoned to save the universe." Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review, saying, "The book is wildly romantic, sweeping in its effect, employing the techniques of Catholic hagiography, Western fairy tale, Indian legend and everyday family folklore against the gritty realities of war, poverty, prejudice, lawlessness, torture and genocide." And, the book has drawn frequent comparisons to the work of Gabriel García Márquez. Last fall, the city of San Francisco even chose the novel for its "One Book, One City" program.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea was born in Tijuana, but currently lives in suburban Chicago and teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Hummingbird's Daughter is his eleventh book, but Urrea spent 20 years researching and writing the story. It is clearly a labor of love, and his affection for his subject contributes to the charm of the novel. His last book, The Devil's Highway, told the tragic true account of a group of men who tried to cross the border from Mexico into the Arizona desert. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His other previous works include three collections of poetry and two novels. For more information about the author, visit his website at luisurrea.com.

Read The Hummingbird's Daughter and then join us on Monday, March 12, at The Book Cellar (4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.), beginning at 7:30pm, to talk about the book. New members are always welcome, and, if you don't quite finish the book in time, that's perfectly understandable. Join us and share how far you got.

 
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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

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