The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
If I hadn’t had Luis Alberto Urrea himself read the majority of his novel to me via iPod, I would never have known the proper pronunciation of Parangarícutirimícuaro, not to mention a few choice insults! Good thing I also bought the book, because I wouldn’t have known how to reproduce such lyrical vocabulary!
Daughter is my fourth Urrea title, and my first novel by him. His Border Trilogy was so additive, I read them all in less than a week. This book was no different. When I didn’t have the headset on during my training runs, I made up some of the 18.5 audible hours with the actual book, especially when I was just too impatient to find out what happened next!
At the center of this magnificent tome is an Urrea relative: “TERESA URREA WAS A REAL PERSON,” writes Urrea in capitals in his “Author’s Note.” Although he grew up believing she was his aunt, he would later learn that Teresa’s father was the first cousin of Urrea’s great-grandfather. As epic as Teresa’s story is, so, too, is Urrea’s 20-year effort to recreate his legendary ancestor on the printed page.
Born Niña García Nona María Rebecca Chávez in Sinhaloa, Mexico during the last decades of the 19th century to a 14-year-old servant girl impregnated by the wealthy philandering rancher Don Tomás Urrea, Teresa renames herself after Saint Teresa, predicting that “‘I am going to be her.'” Abandoned by her mother, Teresa is raised first by her abusive maternal aunt, then saved by Huila, the revered midwife and potent healer.
As a teenager, Teresa is finally recognized by her father as his daughter, and she is duly trained in the ways of a proper young lady. When violence strikes Teresa’s young life, she reawakens with the power to heal. Her reputation grows as the “Santa de Cabora,” and as the pilgrims multiply seeking her wisdom and miracles, the nervous Mexican military accuses Teresa and Tomás of inciting seditious activities against the government.
Surrounding father and daughter at the story’s center is a sprawling cast of characters, both major and minor, from a self-immolating Indian teacher to a worm-infested stranger to a bee whisperer to a putrid half-dead young boy who arrives in the night … to a vengeful first wife, two fighting half-brothers, and a dream-travelling sweetheart.
When the novel ends after some 500 pages, Teresa is just embarking on the next major part of her life. History shows that she has more than a decade and a half of adventures left before her final departure … dare we hope that the story will continue? Six years have passed since Urrea published this installment. Let’s hope he won’t take another 14 to finish the conclusion …?