The House of Broken Angels (2018)

by Luis Alberto Urrea

When the matriarch of the immigrant de la Cruz family dies just before the party planned for her cancer-stricken sonís 70th birthday, the funeral and Big Angelís final birthday celebration take place on back-to-back days in San Diego. It is not a harmonious gathering befitting the occasions.

Painful memories, old feuds, grievances, and scandals flow alongside the exuberance of the clan. A half-brother is still resented because his American mother broke up their fatherís first marriage. A sister detests her sister-in-law. An estranged gay stepson stays away. Big Angelís youngest son draws an armed gunman to the party while trying to avenge his stepbrotherís gang murder.

As Big Angel recalls the history of the familyís journey across the border from La Paz, we learn that the past was as messy as the present. Yet the tone of the book is joyful, a joy that is reinforced by Big Angelís repeated reminders of what he is grateful for, including his wife, Perla, and upward mobility.

Urrea, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the book was based on his late older brotherís last birthday party. Urrea does not counter stereotypes of Mexican Americans ó the men admire machismo in one another and looks and domestic skills in women ó but perhaps his purpose was to show that Mexican immigrant families are not very different from others.


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