Book of the month: Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels

Author: Nisâ Sevsay  Hacettepe University

Our book recommendation of the month is Urrea’s new book The House of Broken Angels, a perfect example on how to weave personal stories into fiction.
It is full of warm and intimate stories about one’s home. It does not only reflect Mexican-American culture through an insider’s perspective, but it also illustrates the numerous motives that explain many Latino/Latina’s current struggles. Almost all members of the family had tragic backgrounds and memories that were heartfelt and devastating. Big Angel, for instance, had a childhood full of painful family issues, while his son, Lalo, was still haunted by the traumatic war memories, gang violence, and drug addiction. As a reader, you feel like a guest in the house of De La Cruz family, witnessing every single activity they do in their daily life, with their intrigues and turbulent love affairs. Moreover, you face their grim reality when you read about the way they starved so much that once they filled their pockets with boiled or fried dandelions and had them for dinner. Thus, Urrea portrays the Latino struggle while also enlivening it with secret love affairs and dynamic, vivacious Latino lifestyle. Another thing that caught my attention was the number of similarities between the Hispanic and Turkish culture, such as the way Hispanic mothers beat their children with slippers. What I liked most about the novel is that you almost feel as if you are part of their family while reading it, witnessing very intimate scenes and finding a place for yourself in their traditions, even the way they hold “farewell parties.” Although the book deals with death and loss, it is both a joyful and a humorous story of death. Moreover, Urrea often reminds the reader of Mexican history, referring to Emiliano Zapata and the times when Hispanics are not allowed to swim in the public pool in Los Angeles because their skin is “too brown.” We do not only see the conflict between Americans and Hispanics, but we also witness the tension among Hispanics themselves, visible by the hostility Big Angel’s family shows to his wife, Perla, as they call her “prostitute.”
Critically speaking, two points are worth mentioning in the novel: one is that it might legitimize the stereotype that Latinas are “hot-tempered,” “promiscuous,” and “fiery” women who tend to have immoral affairs. All women characters in the novel are sensuous and provocative, tempting men who are equally depicted as aggressive, macho, or criminal. The second issue is the plot structure. One might feel the need to read the book again to fully grasp the points that s/he missed in the first reading. I think the reason why this book is studied is, as Little Angels points out, “if only the dominant culture could see these small moments, they would see their own human lives reflected in the other.” I believe that is the main point of the novel. Additionally, Urrea shows these “small moments” to give us an opportunity to see our own lives reflected in them, and he is successful in doing so.

 

Urrea, Luis Alberto. 2018. The House of Broken Angels. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

 

AUTHOR BIO
Nisâ Sevsay got her BA and MA in American Culture and Literature from Hacettepe University. Her work has been accepted for publication in several academic presses, and accepted by University College Dublin, Centre for War Studies, and Le Mans University, France. Her areas of interest include Cultural Studies, American History, and the literary representation of the conflicts in the Middle East.


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