The Hummingbird’s Daughter x2

hbirdThe Hummingbird’s Daughter
by Luis Alberto Urrea
2005 /  528 pages
read by Luis Alberto Urea (the author) 18h 25m
(read and listened)
rating:  9.5 – historical fiction

I belong to a lot of reading groups where we nominate books and vote on which ones to read and discuss.  I had never  (to the best of my memory) nominated a book I’d read prior – but I can’t say that anymore.   What happened?

I read Urrea’s book 8 or 10 years ago on a friend’s recommendation and loved it.  This past nomination period in the great Bookgroup List I was stumped as to what to nominate – (It’s very difficult to nominate books you’ve never read – like recommending something to a friend which  you’ve never read – gads).  But I realized I really wanted to reread this lovely book and so I caved – nominated something I had read prior.

I am so glad I did!  What total refreshment to read and listen to Urrea again.  But I only listened last time and he does an absolutely exquisite job of bringing his own words to life in a way I think maybe no other narrator could do.

Sinoloa, Mexico

Sinoloa, Mexico

This time I downloaded the Kindle version to follow along so I was  looking at the words and seeing the way the Spanish names are spelled.   I see how much Spanish there really is in the book but with Kindle the translations are almost immediately available;  it’s mainly a lot of cussing if it’s not paraphrased in English in the next sentence.

The story is based on Urea’s own family tales as Saint Teresita was his great-aunt, or cousin but Urrea did an enormous amount of research, too.  He’s written other books, both fiction and nonfiction,  including a Pulitzer nominee for nonfiction,  so he knows how to go about it.  His sources are mentioned a Author’s Note at the end of the book – also read in the Audio version.

Starting in the rural area of Sinoloa, a state in Mexico, in the year 1873,  Teresita was born on the ranch of Don Tomas Urrea.  It is his child, the mother being Cayetano Chávez, a 14-year old Indian (Mayo)  girl.  But Tomas is married, wealthy, powerful and a womanizer –

After a few chapters there is a jump to several years later when the child Teresita meets Tomas for the first time and goes to live with Huila, a local healer and spiritualist.  Teresita is already exhibiting some interesting symptoms,  for instance her hands are very warm and she can make them warm at will. She has an intuitive knowledge of plants and animals, of healing and people.  Huila takes her knowledge further.

The story follows Teresa as she grows up on the ranch participating in the everyday lives of the people,  aiding in the delivery of calves and babies. She learns to read although it is socially forbidden to girls.  She and Huila travel some and she learns from many places and people including the Yori medicine man Maunelito.  She develops a heavy sense of Catholicism in her beliefs but it’s always mingled well with the naturalist Indian ways.  She becomes friends with a Catholic bishop.

The family gets involved in Mexican politics and this leads to some real trouble with the Indian’s reverence for Teresita and the Mexican government under Porfirio Diaz being out to eliminate the Yaqui people.

I wouldn’t call The Hummingbird’s Daughter “magical realism” in the sense that some of the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is magical realism.  That term seems to have grown to include everything from fantasy to folktales.  I’d rather use the term “mystical realism” as the subject matter has a lot more to do with what Teresita Urrea and her people considered spiritual not magic.  That said I suppose it is a type of magical realism but still retaining the Latin American flavor of Garcia’s magical realism. .

It gets a bit longish in places,  very violent in others,  but the ending winds up absolutely mind-boggling.


Luis Urrea:

EPCC Libraries:

Bill Moyers:

Teresa Urrea:

Texas History Online:

Mayo People  

Porfiro Diaz:

Lots of stuff around the net about Teresa Urrea and the Mexican Revolution –

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