3 Wonderful, Life-changing Books by Luis Alberto Urrea
Luis Alberto Urrea is a Mexican American novelist and poet. His preferred genres are fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. A lot of his work has as its central axis on the subject of immigration from Mexico to the USA, which is the story of his life.
His experiences as part of an immigrant family, having strong illnesses as a child, witnessing machismo, being discriminated against for being a “white Hispanic,” and not being able to fully understand multiculturalism were painful and even dangerous situations for him—similar experiences that happened to the Cuban American author Óscar Hijuelos.
Read ahead to find why the Chicago Tribune called him the “literary conscience of the border,” and how his very interesting life full of contrasts resulted in wonderful, entertaining, and life-changing books.
Benefits of Reading Spanish Literature
According to experts, literature is a powerful tool to learn a foreign language and has even turned into a teaching trend. If you use the correct criteria to select the books you read—favoring relevant and motivating material—you will develop skills similar to those of native speakers.
Prepare to internalize Spanish to a level where you will be able to understand diverse forms of speech, syntactic, semantics, colloquial and formal tones, writing styles, and much more.
Contextualizing words and phrases in a literary piece is another of the many benefits you can attain by reading Spanish books. Understanding the meaning of them by relating their usage will make you practice this skill for literary works of increased complexity. Eventually, you will start reading in Spanish for pleasure and to ask, do research and look forward to discussing subjects in this foreign language. This will result in gaining a critical view of the books you read and the usage of all of these elements in your Spanish speaking.
Luis Alberto Urrea Biography and Writing Style
Luis Alberto Urrea was born in Tijuana, Mexico in 1955. He had tuberculosis as a kid and recovered in the US. He studied at the universities of California and Colorado.
His father used to go to his hometown to seek jobs and a way to pay for his son’s college. Luis Alberto Urrea, unfortunately, lost his father on one of those trips. This situation pushed him to write about it and the numerous circumstances immigrants face every day.
Luis Alberto worked as a relief worker for refugees, teacher’s aide, movie extra, columnist, cartoonist, and teacher in universities like Harvard. He now lives with his family in Illinois and is a creative writing professor at the University of Illinois.
His style includes realism—which is a way of telling a story truthfully, with no intention of romanticizing it—and just a few sparkles of magical realism—where real-world settings and happenings collide with fantastic circumstances—.
Luis Alberto Urrea Books in Spanish
1. The House of Broken Angels (La casa de los ángeles rotos)
This family saga tells us the story of Angelote (big angel) and how he is celebrating his last birthday in San Diego as he is facing defeat against terminal cancer. But since Angelote’s mother died a few days before the celebration, he decides to organize her funeral—making that weekend a double farewell.
One of the attendees is Angelín, who came all the way from Seattle to pay his respects. This book tells both of their stories and the journey of being a Mexican in the USA. It presents how the characters have lived a double life—one on each side of the border—and how forgotten parts of one’s life emerge from death whether you are seeking them or not.
A series of unprecedented situations develop on this very singular weekend where reflections and the coexistence of life and death appear with an irreverent humoristic tone.
Let Luis Alberto Urrea guide you through the Mexican-American experience making use of his authentic perspective and mastering the narrative process. You will enter a funeral yet you will feel at a party because this is not a novel about death but about life. This is the book for you if you are intrigued by the Mexican view over death, as something that is only here to remember us to be grateful and excited to be alive.
The literary complexity of this book is moderate not only for the non-linear plot but also for a large number of characters and family members.
2. The Hummingbird’s Daughter (La hija de la chuparrosa)
Miracles abound in this magnetic story about a young Mexican woman that has the faculty of healing the wounded and relieving the afflicted. She listens to her calling and finds her destiny in the midst of a rising revolution, while people chant her name.
Luis Alberto Urrea is sharing the mystic story of Mexico and his father’s aunt Teresa Urrea, best known as the “Mexican Joan of Arc’.’ You can perceive this book as heavily researched but it also has traces of Latin American magical realism all over its pages.
The Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post considered this novel one of the best books of the year, which some experts consider Luis Alberto Urrea’s masterpiece.
Read this book if you are into magical realism, Mexican history, Catholic-Hispanic culture, leading females or female healers. The complexity of this piece ranks between easy to moderate. The story has depth but Luis Alberto Urrea presents it in a simple way.
3. Into the Beautiful North (Rumbo al hermoso norte)
The setting is Tres Camarones, a town like many others in Mexico: where there is a lack of men due to the migration to America. Some bandits take advantage of the situation and cost the village. Nayeli, a 19-year-old girl watches The Magnificent Seven and decides that she has to go to America to find the 7 best town fighters and try to convince them to go back to her hometown to fight the bad men.
She gets her three best friends to join her in this quest financed by the mayor. Although they have their misadventures along the way, like losing their belongings, they also find some angels in disguise that help them out. Nayeli finds out an ugly truth about her family once in America and disappointment hits her.
Read Rumbo al hermoso norte if you like epic tales and want to know more details about what it is like to migrate to a new country, and leave your old life behind. There is even a section where you can see the story from the eyes of the border patrol to enrich this migration narrative even more.
The complexity of this novel goes from easy to moderate as Luis Alberto Urrea intends it to be an easy text but no part of this story has clear sharp ends. This educates us on all the gray areas that border policies can’t cover.
Luis Alberto Urrea Books in English
Although not all of Luis Alberto Urrea’s work is translated into Spanish and therefore does not belong to this list, many of his books give a clear picture of situations Hispanic people and specifically immigrants—and the reasons behind why they migrate—have to face every day.
Reading some of his English material like Across the Wire will give you a cultural background and understanding of the situation at the Mexican borderlands.
You can read the Devil’s Highway—in this link you will find a video of the author reading a passage to get a sense of the depth of the book—to confirm that the immigration debate is still active today, and that border policy is a highly abstract topic.
In the award-winning book Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life, you will find the hardships that come with having an American mother and a Mexican dad while living in the US, and speaking Spanish in a black-Mexican neighborhood while being white.
Learn More About Hispanic Authors and Ways To Improve Your Spanish!
Luis Alberto Urrea is a great reference for Mexican American culture. He paints vivid portraits of the experiences people have while being refugees, or first immigrant generation. He subtly crystalizes brutal cultural shocks with the calmness and magic of simple love through the stories he tells of the people around him. Irreverence and tenderness coexist to bring humor to experiences otherwise stormy and alienating.
If you want to learn more about Luis Alberto Urrea or other similar authors, here is an extra tip to learn to read them in Spanish! Speaking with a native speaker will take your Spanish level to a whole different level. Here at HSA, you can tailor a Spanish package made specifically to fulfill your needs and literary or artistic interests.
Become part of our 24,000+ monthly enrolled students that have trusted our 10 years of expertise and speed up your journey towards speaking like a native! Sign up for a free class with one of our friendly teachers from Guatemala and start improving your reading comprehension skills today!
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