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Loteria: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 2, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Zambrano’s stellar debut is proof positive that good things come in small packages. Here the good thing—dare we say, the very good thing?—is the journal/memoir of 11-year-old Luz Castillo, who has been taken into the state’s custody after her father is arrested. Luz’s mother has disappeared, and older sister Estrella lies dying in a hospital. Luz, whom some might label a willful child, steadfastly refuses to speak to anyone, least of all her counselor; instead, the child has opted to share her thoughts with God via written entries inspired by the pictures in a deck of Lotería cards. Zambrano’s selection of the Mexican bingo-like game cards as Luz’s communication vehicle is sheer genius. Not only is it the girl’s favorite game because it calls up happier times, but also because the images, including a tree, a rooster, and death, spur her imagination, unearthing events that otherwise might become forever suppressed. A nonjudgmental observer of her dysfunctional environment, Luz is trying to construct her own moral compass. Although this spare, little illustrated book may seem better suited to young adult readers, rest assured that Luz’s story will engage both young and old right up to, and beyond, the startling plot twist. --Donna Chavez


“Sometimes what Zambrano leaves off the page is just as important as what’s been written. This narrative sleight of hand shows Zambrano’s gift for evoking great pain in stark, lyrical sketches.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Zambrano effectively uses his string of short-story-like entries to make Luz a many-faceted diamond, hardened by life but still filled with light and beauty.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“It’s a polished tome of prose unreeling the tale of plucky little Luz Maria Castillo in the game of chance called life… Loteria should delight and disturb any reader sensitive to the ways of children and how they think and, more importantly, how deeply they feel.” (Dallas Morning News)

Loteria…captures, from a wide-eyed yet uncloying child’s perspective, the way in which life can feel a lot like a game of chance.” (Vogue, “Summer Reads”)

“Coming of Age through bingo—the weirder, magical Mexican version.” (New York)

“[Zambrano’s] debut novel…is a polished tome of prose unreeling the tale of plucky little Luz Maria Castillo in the game of chance called life.… We peer like voyeurs, artfully led by Zambrano’s pacing, dialogue and comically drawn characters.” (Houston Chronicle)

“LOTERIA is a taut, fraught, look at tragedy, its aftermath, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive. With suspense, dread, and always the possibility for redemption, we watch as Zambrano flips the cards of chance and fate.” (Justin Torres, author of We The Animals)

“LOTERIA… is constructed as a beautiful, gripping, and lyrical set of riddles (asked and solved) about life—and—death matters in one family. Like the novels of Cortazar, its form is intricate and beautiful. ” (Charles Baxter, author of Gryphon: New and Selected Stories and The Feast of Love)

“Mario Alberto Zambrano performs a lyrical and formal sleight of hand conjuring a spiritually profound and deeply moving story. Loteria is about everything that matters. . . . This gorgeous, one-of-a-kind debut, marks the emergence of a singular and powerful new literary voice.” (Amber Dermont, New York Times bestselling author of The Starboard Sea and Damage Control: Stories)

“In a bold, deeply-felt debut Mario Alberto Zambrano brings us tragedy made powerful … These are people who hold on to each other so hard it hurts. And this moving novel will hug you too, every bit as tight.” (Josh Weil, author of The New Valley)

“Take the architecture of Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies and marry it to the wide-open childhood receptivity of McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding, and you might achieve something like the effect of LOTERIA.” (Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead)

“If a book can be a spirit, this one is lithe, beautiful, and true. Mario Alberto Zambrano brings the heart of an artist immersed in movement and music to his prose and the result is dazzling.” (Ru Freeman, author of A Disobedient Girl)

Loteria, charms on every page, despite heartache, love and loss. . . . The beauty and joy of her voice overcomes the hardships of her life, and by the end we have fallen in love. Bravo to a marvelous debut!” (Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli)

“Mario Alberto Zambrano’s Loteria is a tender, beautifully written story. In every line, Zambrano finds the happy and sad music of childhood. It is an entrancing work.” (Lynne Tillman, author of Someday This Will Be Funny)

“Lotería is the card-based Mexican variant of bingo and, in the hands of Zambrano, it’s a deck stacked with narrative possibilities.… An intriguing debut and an elegiac, miniature entry in the literature of Latin American diaspora that will break your heart.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Zambrano’s stellar debut is proof positive that good things come in small packages.” (Booklist(starred review))

“His restraint from sentimentality, his mastery of well-made sentences and his rich imagination lift words off the page—like dancers in a ballet.” (National Post (Canada))

“The broken tale and imaginative first-person narration lend weight to this curious novel. It’s an impressive first step for an artist exploring a new medium.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“In this debut novel, a Mexican-American girl uses the game of Loteria to reveal her memories, which add up to a heartwenching tale of violence, love and a broken family.” (Los Angeles Times, “Summer Reading”)

“This is a smart and powerful tale, beautifully rendered by a sensitive artist.” (Shelf Awareness)

“An incredible first novel.” (Village Voice)

“This is a gripping, heartbreaking novel by a new writer who already understands the power of understatement and controlled revelation.” (El Paso Times)

Loteria is… like stumbling onto the gut-wrenching journal of a preteen girl. It’s imaginative, mysterious, and sometimes too real.” (Daily Candy)

“…Loteria reaches a rare plane where it transcends its form and comes alive as a commentary on character, family and culture.” (Brooklyn Rail)

“Luz’s (and by extension Zambrano’s) refusal to give in to easy condemnations of her father’s actions, beautifully highlighted by genuinely difficult arguments between Luz and Estrella, is among this novel’s most risky and ultimately successful gambits.” (School Library Journal (starred review))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (July 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062268546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062268549
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,031,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Luz Maria Castillo is eleven. She's been in a government facility for a few days with only a deck of Loteria cards from home. Her sister Estrella is hospitalized, in critical condition. Luz feels responsible for Estrella's injury but its cause remains a mystery through most of the novel. Luz refuses to speak. Her aunt Tencha wants her to talk to the counselors, to open up, because that's the only way to get her father out of jail. Luz' counselor interprets Luz' silence as a reaction to trauma. Instead of speaking, Luz follows Tencha's suggestion to write down her thoughts. She writes as if she were speaking to God.

In her journal, Luz tells a series of stories about her life, memories of her past, each inspired by the picture on a Loteria card. Whether all of the stories are literally true is unclear; Luz reminds us that we each tell our own stories in our own ways. Some of the stories are cute but seemingly pointless (that's to be expected when random memories are triggered by pictures) while others bring Luz' life into sharper focus. To an extent, her story is typical of an immigrant family transplanted from Mexico to the United States, struggling to assimilate and coping with discrimination. On a more personal level, Luz describes parents whose domestic life transitioned from romance to violence, a father whose rough discipline leaves its mark on both of his daughters and a mother who (in Luz' view) abandoned them. Mario Zombrano makes it possible to understand and even empathize with Luz' father while, in the same moment, condemning his abusive behavior.

It's also easy to understand Luz, a girl who doesn't understand herself. She questions her role in her family as well as her identity: Is she Mexican or American? Is she good or bad?
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I don’t usually write comments on the books that I read, but Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano is such a uniquely moving work that I feel compelled to share my enthusiasm with others. This is Zambrano’s first novel, and it is highly original in numerous ways. The story is related entirely through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl named Luz. She lives on the McAllen, Texas, side of the border across from Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Luz has family in both Mexico and the United States, but is more comfortable speaking and writing in English and living in the United States (where she was born). At the opening of the book Luz is being held in an institution, but we aren’t sure why or just what has happened. She does not speak to the staff of the facility, but regularly writes in a journal that she is surreptitiously keeping. She has a deck of Mexican lotería cards – they are used to play a game that is similar to bingo – and uses the cards to trigger memories which she then writes about in her journal. The unique organization for Zambrano’s book, with the young girl’s memories triggered by the pictures on the lotería game cards, keeps the reader in suspense to the very end. Luz’s life experiences are revealed one at a time, but not necessarily sequentially. Through her memories we get to know her parents, her sister Estrella, and other members of the extended family. We experience Luz’s emotions, and find her to be a sympathetic and likeable little girl. The reader agonizes over what she has already experienced going through life. We also wonder to what extent Luz’s life experiences are common in the border communities. I will be watching for other work by Mario Alberto Zambrano in coming years. Maybe the author will continue to chronicle the life of this young character. I’ve never read anything quite like Lotería before, and recommend it without hesitation.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Luz Maria Castillo is eleven years old and she is a ward of the state. She has been placed in a facility that houses young people because of some unknown reason. We do know, however, that her father is in jail and that her mother has run away several years ago. She has a sister Estrella and an aunt Tencha. Her aunt visits her frequently but Luz has not spoken since she has been placed in custody.

She is using a deck of Loteria cards, a Mexican game similar to bingo, to write her family's story. Each card gives the reader a little bit more information about Luz's situation and the tragic incidents that have brought her to her current circumstances. We learn about the domestic violence that occurred with regularity in Luz's home, how her hand was broken by her father in response to his finding out that Luz was sexually abused, how Luz's mother and father often fought physically with one another.

The book moves very slowly and some of the Loteria cards don't seem to shed much light on Luz's situation. Luz is writing a journal, speaking in words to a higher power, about her family and her life. She is visited by a social worker named Julia who tries to get her to talk, without success. I wanted to learn more about Luz's current situation. Much of the back history did not seem to be relevant to Luz's current life. Overall, this book is more like a novella than a novel. It has 272 pages but approximately 70 of them are illustrations of the Loteria cards or blank pages. Parts of it rambled as Luz used the cards to try and come up with something about her life without much success.

The ending is a huge surprise and has another twist as well. I appreciated the parts about Luz's family but felt like much of the book was filler rather than relevant to the topic at hand.
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