Sunday, June 04, 2006

Telling Stories for Stories Sake

I loved the book. Honestly, I had a moment of panic when I first suggested it because I had never read it, nor had I spoken with anyone who had, so there was a chance it would suck hard. Then I read it and was astounded. It took me about a week to get through it. That is because it would wake me up at night and I would read for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. I just couldn't put it down. I think Urrea is a master storyteller. He put the novel together from stories he had collected over 20 years (I think that's what the end of the book said). I love the idea of collecting oral histories and then putting them together in a cohesive narrative. The book was full one of those that gave me physical reactions - made me laugh out loud often and even gasp here and there - I absolutely love that in a book. I think he did a great job, but did have one small section that threw me off. The pages where Huila comes back from the dead to talk with Teresita. It seemed like a missed opportunity for Urrea. The idea was great, but the dialogue they had was false and forced, where the rest of the dialogue, although fictionalized, was believeable and flowed naturally. I wished he had left us to wonder what they talked about than to force a wholly unbelievable interaction between the two. I even wondered for a second whether his editor had thrown it in. It just didn't seem to fit. Urrea is masterful at developing characters, even if there was some stereotyping going on. After all, Teresita was the virginal figure who was imbued with the ability to work miracles - yes, she was raped, but that was not by her own lust. Tomas was virile and couldn't help it that he loved pussy so much (actually, the women were lucky that he was so gifted in cunnilingus - all but his wife). In fact, Urrea's portrayal of the machismo of the men in the story made me think about how Alice Walker was critisized so harshly for portraying men so harshly. I feel like Urrea could get away with his hyper-sexual, even mysogynistic portrayal of men, and get away with it because he is a man. Privilege Alice Walker does not have. Imagine what the uproar would have been if in The Color Purple, in addition to portraying men so harshly, one of the female characters had a purse made out of testicle? Regardless of these issues, the book was one of the best I've ever read. I loved the stories and I especially loved the way Huila was so much like the stories I've heard of my Great Grandma, Tranquilina Galvez. I look forward reading it numerous times and have been recommending it to everyone I know.

1 comment:

Riotrant said...

Berna--thanks for choosing an excellent read. I think what drew me into this novel was the caliber of storytelling. Yes, I think that Hummingbird's Daughter is, indeed, a narrative for the sake of narrative, but I also believe that Urrea's focus was on preservation--of both family stories as well as a historical account of Teresita's life.

I was also intrigued by Urrea's juxtaposition of Aztec/Native mythology and biblical allegory. Teresita's mother is known as the Hummingbird--a bird, according to some mythology, considered to be a messenger/intermediary to the Gods. Teresita's mother, although absent from the beginning of the story, still remains a crucial figure throughout the rest of the novel. In fact, on several occasions--as Teresita begins to exhibit her mystical power--she sees the hummingbird--physically and metaphorically. It seems that Teresita--born from the Hummingbird, shaped by the mystical Huila, and eventually schooled in Catholicism--is meant to be a bridge between two different and sometimes opposed cultures.

I can't also help but draw a connection between the caravan of people migrating from one part of Mexico to another--and the Israelites wandering through the desert...

I do believe Urrea was also making a commentaries on the power of the church and assimilation. From nearly the beginning of the novel, the church is a forceful, almost oppressive presence...and there is diametric opposition between preserving "native" ways and assimilating the "white" culture of wealth and religious conformity. Terista's father is a man attempting to disassociate himself from his "native" history and fully assimilate into the white world. But this is problematic--and he is never fully accepted by the church--mostly because of his lusts, but partially--I would argue--because of fathering a "dark" daughter and, later, taking a "dark" lover.

Teresita is able to straddle both worlds, blend mysticisms and ultimately unite the people. She does so by not fully accepting and conforming to the church while also celebrating the idiginous knowledge she's aquired. (Although I have to admit I was disappointed in the association between "native" being equated to "ignorant/backward" and English language literate as equalling "enlightened"--as Urrea does note that Teresita must've possessed supernatural mystical powers because she was able to teach herself to read the bible...)

On several occasions, like you Berna, I found myself laughing out loud...wanting to read more and more. Beautiful novel...I love a read that challenges the reader...