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THE HOUSE OF BROKEN ANGELS is, as Urrea describes it, “the story of an American family—one that happens to speak Spanish and admire the Virgin of Guadalupe. Imperfect and glorious, messy and hilarious, sometimes heroic.” Inspired by the death of his brother, Urrea’s novel mines his own family history to tell a once-in-a-lifetime tale, simultaneously intimate in its detail and grand in its scope. Miguel Angel De La Cruz, aka “Big Angel,” is dying. The beloved and rapidly declining patriarch of the De La Cruz clan, he assembles his relatives for a final, epic birthday bash. Days before the party, however, his mother, nearly a hundred herself, passes away, resulting in a hefty farewell fete. Over the course of one weekend, the family members reminisce under the San Diego sun and stars, sharing stories about growing up in Mexico, leaving Mexico, and making a home in the U.S.
No matter where you live, whether you were born in the U.S. or grew up elsewhere, this affectionate, passionate, flawed family will likely remind you in some way of your own. And novels like THE HOUSE OF BROKEN ANGELS—offering clarifying insight into the daily lives, the trials and triumphs, of Mexican-Americans—are especially needed today. We believe it’s a beautiful masterwork worthy of your close attention, and look forward to touching base with you about it in the near future.
“The House of Broken Angels has everything we demand of a great novel—sweep, ambition, generosity, myth, intimacy, and, above all, humanity. Luis Alberto Urrea just gets better and better.”
—Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize–winning and New York Times bestselling author of Everybody’s Fool
“Luis Alberto Urrea is a master storyteller, and he delivers a masterwork with The House of the Broken Angels . . . Through the magical power of Urrea’s writing, we become healed and whole. And we laugh and tear up and shake our heads in wonder all the way to the ending of a book we don’t want to end. Urrea delivers on every page”
—Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Dear Literary Companion,
When my eldest brother was in the last month of a terminal disease, he had to bury his own mother. Her funeral happened to be on the day before his birthday. He knew it was to be his last, though I believe he kept that certainty to himself. One of his army of grand-daughters had urged the family to give “Pops” a blow-out party, the kind of ruckus he would have delighted in during better days. And we did. And he did. Everyone was aware that this was a farewell, but hey–we’re Mexican: some curandera or angel or UFO pilot could descend during the cutting of the cake and heal him.
His name was Juan. He was whittled down in size, but not in ferocity or presence; he burned with light and good humor. The party, a living wake, was astonishing. Around every corner, there seemed to be a remarkable scene of comedy or tragedy. Avalanches of food. Storms of music. Generations come to bend a knee and thank this man for his 74 years of life. Juan sat in his wheelchair in the middle of this swirl of bodies and stories and behaviors–some of them glorious in their inappropriateness–like some king. Which, of course, he was.
Within a month, he was gone, and we were back to bury him.
This book, then, is inspired by a deeply personal experience. But it was also always my intention to take the story of the American borderlands, and of Mexican-American families, out to the larger world. Let me explain. I first read Mario Puzo on a Mexican bus. I had been born on the border and spent much of my boyhood in Tijuana (the rest in San Diego), but this was my first foray into deep Mexico. I was traveling with my father, who handed me a paperback of The Godfather and told me it would change my life forever. It was his favorite American book, which I thought odd, since it was about an Italian family. But my father insisted it was in many ways about us. It was a twenty-seven-hour bus ride, and I spent all of it glued to that book. It took me years, though, to realize that my Mexican father knew more about American than I did. It wasn’t about the Mafia – it was about la familia.
Although the reading of immigrant tales was a major part of my upbringing, I never really, among all those families, found my own represented. Reflected, perhaps – I see my patriarchs and matriarchs in the old men and women shuffling around in the snows of Manhattan and the Bronx and sometimes Chicago. But none of them made tortillas or listened to Pedro Infante. I wanted a family epic of my own – the story of an American family. One that happens to speak Spanish and admire the Virgin of Guadalupe. Imperfect and glorious, messy and hilarious, sometimes heroic. It took me a long time to find a way to tell it. My brother helped me.
I hope this family reminds you of your own. They always have coffee ready for you, even if the old-timers insist on drinking instant.