Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Saint of Cabora

Luis Alberto Urrea
The Hummingbird's Daughter has been on my watch list for probably a decade or so.  I think I first heard about it on one of the historical fiction forums in which I used to participate.  Words like lush and vivid and lyrical were used to describe it.

But, as often happens, I just never got around to reading the book.  Other books took precedence.  Finally, I saw that it was available for audiobook download at the library, so I put it on my wish list.  Even a decade after its publication, there was a wait list for the book!  I took that as a good sign.  And after hearing only the first few instances, I was an instant fan.  It's true - the words lush, vivid and lyrical are very fitting for this novel.

The Hummingbird's Daughter is about Luis Alberto Urrea's great-aunt Teresita, a woman who was said to have great healing powers and was often called a saint in Mexico.  Teresita was born to an unmarried Indian woman and raised in great poverty by an aunt who was not a kind woman.  But she always had a great healing ability, so was accepted as an apprentice by the local healer, Huila.  Eventually, her father acknowledged her as his daughter, and from there, Teresita's life went on a very different course than she ever could have expected.

One of the reasons it took me so long to read this book was because of the strong religious undertones.  There was a lot of religion (and politics) in the second half of this book, and it became a bit tiresome and repetitive.  But there was also a lot that was amazing in this book, and I would say those aspects more than made up for the religion and repetition.  One of my favorite things about Spanish literature is the magical realism.  One of my favorite things about Luis Alberto Urrea's writing is the humor.  Combining magical realism with humor is a glorious idea, and more people should do it.  But until they do, I am happy with Urrea's approach.

I listened to The Hummingbird's Daughter on audiobook.  While I really enjoyed it - the narrator was fantastic and lively - I don't know if this book is ideal for audiobook.  Particularly in the second half of the novel, there's a lot of politics and religion and jail time and other things that just don't translate quite as well on audio as they might on paper.  I was absolutely enthralled by this story for the first 75%, but I lost a bit of steam at the end.  This is possibly because the audiobook is about 19 hours long; I admit it felt like a never-ending story, especially because the magic and humor that was present at the beginning was harder to find later on.  Kind of like The Sound of Music!  Who watches the last 25% of that movie?

The Hummingbird's Daughter is wonderful for a lot of reasons.  I loved Teresita's relationships with Huila, her teacher, and Don Tomas, her father.  Having just finished Stolen Continents, I was glad to read about an era of history that was mentioned in that book.  I loved learning more about Indian customs and the way the Spanish interacted with Indian nations, the way Teresita worked with both the Spanish and Indian sides.  The humor, the friendship, everything.  It was just a little long for audio.


  1. Lush and vivid and lyrical are not always words that will make me want to pick up a book, particularly when they are combined with 'magic realism.' However, I had such a nice reading experience with Urrea last year when I read Into the Beautiful North, so I'd at least be willing to try this one! Even if it doesn't sound most exactly up my alley.

  2. I have been meaning to read this forever... One day I will!

  3. It has been such a long time since I read this that I hardly remember it, just that I liked it. Your comment about Sound of Music made me laugh. So true!


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