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The Hummingbird's Daughter: A Novel Hardcover – May 17, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 217 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. "Her powers were growing now, like her body. No one knew where the strange things came from. Some said they sprang up in her after the desert sojourn with Huila. Some said they came from somewhere else, some deep inner landscape no one could touch. That they had been there all along." Teresita, the real-life "Saint of Cabora," was born in 1873 to a 14-year-old Indian girl impregnated by a prosperous rancher near the Mexico-Arizona border. Raised in dire poverty by an abusive aunt, the little girl still learned music and horsemanship and even to read: she was a "chosen child," showing such remarkable healing powers that the ranch's medicine woman took her as an apprentice, and the rancher, Don Tomás Urrea, took her—barefoot and dirty—into his own household. At 16, Teresita was raped, lapsed into a coma and apparently died. At her wake, though, she sat up in her coffin and declared that it was not for her. Pilgrims came to her by the thousands, even as the Catholic Church denounced her as a heretic; she was also accused of fomenting an Indian uprising against Mexico and, at 19, sentenced to be shot. From this already tumultuous tale of his great-aunt Teresa, American Book Award–winner Urrea (The Devil's Highway) fashions an astonishing novel set against the guerrilla violence of post–Civil War southwestern border disputes and incipient revolution. His brilliant prose is saturated with the cadences and insights of Latin-American magical realism and tempered by his exacting reporter's eye and extensive historical investigation. The book is wildly romantic, sweeping in its effect, employing the techniques of Catholic hagiography, Western fairy tale, Indian legend and everyday family folklore against the gritty historical realities of war, poverty, prejudice, lawlessness, torture and genocide. Urrea effortlessly links Teresita's supernatural calling to the turmoil of the times, concealing substantial intellectual content behind effervescent storytelling and considerable humor.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Twenty years in the making, Urrea's epic novel recounts the true story of his great-aunt Teresita. In 1873, amid the political turbulence of General Porfirio Díaz's Mexican republic, Teresita is born to a fourteen-year-old Indian girl, "mounted and forgotten" by her white master. Don Tomàs Urrea later takes his illegitimate daughter into his home, where she learns to bathe every week and read "Las Hermanas Brontë." But Teresita also continues a folk education as a curandera, discovering healing powers and a mystical relationship with God. Indian pilgrims swarm to the Urrea ranch, where "St. Teresita," a mestiza Joan of Arc, kindles in them a powerful faith in God and a perilous hunger for revolution. The novel brings to life not only the deeply pious figure whom Díaz himself dubbed "the Most Dangerous Girl in Mexico" but also the blood-soaked landscape of pre-revolutionary Mexico.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (May 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316745464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316745468
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read a lot of books. Some are just for fun, some are silly, some are educational, some are not very good. But, every now and then, I find one that is so special that I will read it again, and probably again a few more times.

You can read a "summary" of the book in other reviews, both publishers' and readers'. So, why did I like it and why should you read it.

First, the story is incredible. A child born in poverty begins to show amazing intelligence, skills...and grows to womanhood having had profound effect on her country of birth. Truth is indeed "stranger than fiction".

Second, the author has an amazing talent with words. He gives you the sights, sounds, smells of the world in which Teresita lived. He also uses words to bring each person to life. I actually called a friend to share a quote...Tomas Urrea to Lauro Aguirre...."Although it is true that you are insufferable and irritating, and rightly famed for your endless posturing and platudinous pontificating..." (don't worry, potential reader, though, the book is not full of big words, just, occasionally, one creeps in...I loved that quote because it reminded me of someone.)

Third, I was able to experience a time and place distant from me. Some of what happened was horrific, but, it happened. I was able to begin to understand.

Finally, I loved this book, and will read it again because it contains a message of love and hope that I can understand.

Books do many things, entertain, enlighten and sometimes enrich.

This book enriches, enlightens and entertains.
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Format: Hardcover
In Latin America, instead of saying "to give birth to", the people say "para dar a luz", to bring to the light. Luis Urrea has brought to the light his remarkable great-aunt, La Teresita, a curandera who came to be known as la Santa de Cabora. His painstaking research has resulted in what I can only term a biography written in the style of magical realism. (I've never been able to understand the difference between magic and realism in the first place.) This book is part cultural anthropology, part Mexican history, and wholly enchanting. Urrea is a powerful, masterly writer who sure knows his stuff. He brings his readers to the light of understanding, of feeling, of acknowledgement. I think he may have inherited some of his ancestor's talent for transformation.

Teresita Urrea was a real person. She is buried in a small town in eastern Arizona, where I spent some time growing up. I went to her graveside at age 17, looking only for cheap thrills. (We thought back then that the grave contained the body of a woman who had fought in the Mexican Revolution with Pancho Villa, and whose ghost was rumored to haunt the cemetary.) I wanted to be scared. Instead, on that bitterly cold November night, I found the air around her grave to be soft and warm, and I could smell roses. No roses bloom in the Clifton cemetary in November. Instead of being frightened, I came away with what was then an inexplicable sense of peace. I didn't understand at the time, but now I do. Her healing ways still linger.

Luis Urrea has given us the spirit of La Teresa, warm, alive, and still wearing the scent of roses. I loved reading this book. You will too.
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Format: Paperback
Not since I read Mario Vargas Llosa's THE WAR OF THE END OF THE WORLD several years ago have I come across a novel whose characters, story, and general aura captivated me so completely that I was sorry to see it come to its inevitable end. Until I read THE HUMMINGBIRD'S DAUGHTER.

Luis Alberto Urrea proves himself to be a consummate storyteller, creating a cast of memorable characters whose intersecting lives blend the traditions of hacienda-owning, Christian Mexico with the pantheistic mysticism of Indian Mexico. Urrea depicts Mexico's ironic mixture of warmth and harshness through countless small touches and turns of phrase, creating a remarkably strong sense of place. In fact, Mexico itself becomes one of the book's major characters - its people, its history, its austere and unforgiving climate and geography. The end result is a novel that traces the evolution of Mexico in the late 1800's and the birth of the modern Mexican state in an America-dominated age. It is no coincidence that a book so deeply rooted in Mexico at its beginning ends a number of years later in a train headed for the United States.

The Hummingbird is Cayetana, a poor but strong-willed woman who gives birth to a daughter. Believing that the choice of name will dictate her child's future, Cayetana christens her daughter Nina Garcia Nona Maria Rebecca Chavez. The Hummingbird abandons her daughter at an early age, leaving her with her aunt and disappearing from sight. The young girl, unusually bright and inquisitive, is eventually given over to the tutelage of Huila, the estancia's resident midwife, medicine woman, and all-around mystical healer. As if to prove her absent mother correct even if her choice of names was wrong, the young girl rechristens herself as Theresa, after Saint Theresa.
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Format: Paperback
Urrea is a virtuoso in the use of descriptive language. His story brings to life a rich tapestry of life in the Mexico of Porfirio Diaz. The book oscillates between the rational outlook of Tomas, patron of the estate on which the story is set and the world of magical realism which Teresita, his daughter and the protagonist of the novel, inhabits. Magical realism in Latin American literature can sometimes border on being inaccessible to readers of different cultures, but here it is essential to the storyline and effectively draws the reader into the world of the local people. Unfortunately, the characters in the book are decidedly flat. Despite the marvelous descriptions of the physical world in the novel, Urrea fails to portray the inner lives of his characters in a convincing way. This leads to key junctures in the plot becoming almost uninterpretable. We are left wondering what has motivated the sudden decision by the promiscuous Tomas, who has previously been completely heedless of the fate of the children he has fathered, to adopt one of them while rejecting another. The reader's surprise at this turn of events becomes astonishment when later in the book that same son who was rejected is suddenly given charge of the estate. Many of the events of the book take the reader by surprise because of a lack of character development. Nevertheless, the story is an enjoyable read, and a fascinating window into the world of 19th Century Mexico.
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