Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Boy I Sure Choose a Lot of Novels that Turn the Immigration Story on Its Head for the In-Store Lit Group, and Other Ponderings of Luis Alberto Urrea's Into the Beautiful North.

This week's in-store lit group discussion was for Luis Alberto Urrea's Into the Beautiful North.  Much of Mr. Urrea's interest is on the U.S.-Mexico border, both physically and psychologically.  He's approached the subject from a nonfiction perspective, with The Devil's Highway being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  He's written an acclaimed historical novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, which draws from high Great Aunt Teserita's story, a farmworker whose healing powers hailed her as The Saint of Cabora (in Mexico but not in The United States). 

But his most recent novel, Into the Beautiful North, though drawing on myths and stories, is upfront about its humor.  It's a comic retelling of "The Magnificent Seven", told from the perspective of Nayeli, a young woman whose quest to save her Sinaloan town (well, likely Sinaloa--it's also a border town)by finding seven brave Mexican men to return to the United States and drive out the bandidos.  I guess that's her Aunt Irma's quest really (Aunt Irma is a champion bowler and now mayor of Tres Camarones); Nayeli's personal quest is to find her father, now decamped to Kankakee, Illinois.

Nayeli rounds up her friends Veronica* and Yoloxochitl, as well as Tacho, the owner of the cafe where she works, and they head for the border. Veronica (or Vampi) is rather goth; Tacho is gay, though he's at once closeted and flamboyant. And Yolo? Nayeli soon finds her to be a rival for the affections Missionary Matt, the young man who once tried to save their town, and might be a savior still. Or might not.  I'm not giving anything away.

I always say that when everyone loves a book, it makes for a more stilted discussion.  And that's what happened to the eight of us who gathered together; we laughed, we cried, it was better than "Cats."  I will say there was a lot of disagreement about the ending.  At least have of us felt that either Nayeli had not really fulfilled her quest, or there was an abruptness, or the epilogue wasn't needed, but the other half vehemently disagreed.  Now that's a discussion!

Several of us noted that I seem to be very fond of choosing, well, not anti-immigration stories, but more like backwards immigration stories such as Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project and Colm Toibin's Brooklyn.  Heck, we're hosting another event featuring a novel of that sort tonight, Samuel Park's This Burns my Heart.  It's the repudiation of the traditional narrative--the immigrant moves to the United States, life is better, and he or she is happy.  I don't want to give anything away, but Into the Beautiful North fits the bill.

Urrea lives outside Chicago and it would be great if for his next book, Queen of America, he came to Milwaukee for an event. The new novel is a sequel to The Hummingbird's Daughter.  Now that I've read one of his books, perhaps I can make a better pitch.

Upcoming in-store lit group discussion:

Monday, October 3, 7 pm
The White Woman on a Green Bicycle, by Monique Roffey
Short-listed for the Orange Prize, this is a novel about a couple in post-colonial Trinidad in the 1950s.

Monday, November 7, 7 pm
The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
Winner of the Costa Prize, this is the rise and fall of a financial dynasty, told through a collector of the Japanese figurines, which were all that was left of their fortune.

*Apologies for the missing accents.  Oy, computers!

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