“Big Angel was late to his own mother’s funeral.”
So begins the story of two Angels – “Big Angel” and “Little Angel” – half-brothers by the same father, Antonio de la Cruz, and also related to a whole lot of other people. Antonio was originally from La Paz but he left his wife and their children for a gringo woman and with her begat one more son, also named Angel. So the young one became “Little Angel,” when he eventually came to live with his father and Big Angel for a time.
It’s about family and language and love and memory – and borders of various kinds which need to be crossed for the sake of love.
At the time of the book, Big Angel is 70 years old and is in the final stages of cancer after a long life of hard work and child raising in a community south of San Diego. And he wants to have a final birthday party. So with the help of his wife Perla and daughter Minnie, he invites all the relatives and they set it up.
The House of Broken Angels
by Luis Alberto Urrea
2018 / 336 pages
read by Luis Alberto Urrea – 9h 46m
rating: 8/ contemp fiction
Unfortunately, Big Angel’s own mother who is almost 100 years old, dies just a few days prior to the planned party and a whole lot of people come first for the funeral and then just a day later by Big Angel’s party.
Little Angel, age about 50, is now a professor in Seattle, unmarried and feels a bit lost with all these people from all over the southwest. He’s not quite a part of this big family, but it’s what he has and it is his own brother who is also dying. All these relatives are of documented, undocu-mented and Dreamer status who, in a nod to the current US policy, need to keep a sharp eye out for immigration control (ICE). Most all of them speak English with varying degrees of accent, but there are a few don’t even speak Spanish anymore. Their culture is mix of what you find today in big middle class families, a few lower class, some middle class and a few who really have some status and make good money. It’s a family.
So the book starts out sad because not only did Big Angel’s mother die and there’s a huge funeral, but Big Angel is dying, too. This is his last blow-out.
But the novel is not sad because much of the narrative deals with the memories of the lives of the main characters – how they came together and split apart and had successes and failures. There are a lot of characters but most are just walk-ons – the main stories concern just a few which straighten out easily enough. Big Angel still loves his wife so much even at this point; Lalo wants to be different from what he is; Little Angel is searching for his place in the family, and there are a few other characters who get a focus. By the end of the novel they’re all very nicely delineated and fleshed out – but as with getting to know any family – it takes time. I think because of the language he uses so masterfully, Urrea pulls the love, even joy, out of these difficult, difficult situations and it’s felt by the reader.