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Comment: A well-cared-for item that has seen limited use but remains in great condition. The item is complete, unmarked, and undamaged, but may show some limited signs of wear. Item works perfectly. Pages and dust cover are intact and not marred by notes or highlighting. The spine is undamaged.
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Spirits of the Ordinary: A Tale of Casas Grandes Paperback – May 21, 1998

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kathleen Alcalá's first novel, Spirits of the Ordinary, opens in 1870s Mexico where Zacarias Caraval abandons his family and the religion of his fathers--Judaism--to search for gold in the desert. His wife, Estela, responds by declaring herself independent and taking a lover--an action frowned upon in the small village of Saltillo. Zacarias's wanderings take him into the mountains of Northern Mexico and to the cliff dwellings of Casas Grandes, where he witnesses a massacre--an event that will have a profound affect on him and will eventually send him back to the faith he has abandoned. Spirits of the Ordinary is the first book of a projected trilogy and judging by the quality of Ms. Alcalá's work so far, the next two volumes will be eagerly awaited. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In her first novel, Alcala (author of the story collection Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist) has crafted a fecund fable about the convergence of cultures?Mexican, American and Jewish?along the Mexico/Texas border. The Carabajal family clandestinely practices their Jewish faith in a northern Mexican village of the 1870s. Julio spends his days in his secret Hebraic library; his wife, Mariana, hasn't uttered a word since childhood; and their son, Zacarias, who'd rather prospect for gold than learn a trade, has married a Catholic woman, Estela. Estela's family has a few secrets of their own: an intensely independent woman, Estela has raised her family single-handedly during her husband's long gold-hunting absences and has decided to cut him off financially; her younger brother and sister, twins, have been banished to Texas because of their scandalous androgyny; her unmarried daughter is pregnant; and now her own love affair with an army captain is about to be exposed, while her Zacarias is being hunted by the government for inciting a purported Indian uprising. In the tradition of Latin American literary fabulism, Alcala's seductive writing mixes fatalism and hope, logic and fantasy, to create moral, emotional and political complexities. But her characterizations and plot sparkle with a freshness that is an apt fit for the new social order she writes about with a multicultural vision notable for its lack of preachiness. Readers will be happy to learn that this enchanting episode is the first of a trilogy.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (May 21, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156005689
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156005685
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,578,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Hispanic writing today seems to fall within three distinct categories, i.e., contemporary fiction (mostly urban in context), historical fiction and mystical fiction. With "Spirits of the Ordinary" Kathleen Alcala has supplied us with an excellent example of the mystical genre which is, insofar as I can assess, by far the most difficult and interesting format to work with and master.
Set in the late 19th century, the book essentially is the story of one man-born a Jew, married into a large Catholic family, so estranged from both he lives essentially alone prospecting for gold in the mountains of old Mexico-who eventually becomes the equivalent of a shaman to and for the indiginious Indian communities in Northern Mexico/Southern New Mexico.
Alcala hits the righ tone by introducing her mysticim indirectly and in a low key--the requisite angels, spirits and revelations are present, but are a complement to rather than the focus of the basic story.
The book exhibits flaws common to the debut novel--sometimes disjointed, major characters a bit too out of focus, minor characters given too much play, etc., but the genuiness of the story, the aura of mysticims established, the overll quality of the writing and the extraordinary bredth of the core characters more than compensate for these weaknesses.
Overall, this was one of the best novels I'e read this year and I highly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
In her first novel Alcala writes the story of Zacharias, a Mexican Jew who, in the late 19th century, leaves Mexico to pursue his dreams of finding gold in North America. He leaves behind his wife and children and his Jewish parents. His wife, tired of him spending her father's money on his prospecting expeditions, does the unthinkable and has herself declared financially independent of her husband. His father, a scholar who cannot understand his son's wanderlust, studies Kabbalah with the hope of understanding where his son went, both figuratively and literally.

On its dust jacket, the novel is described in terms of other authors of epic and mystic Hispanic fiction (Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Luis Borges), which is why I chose to read it.

Alcala does a beautiful job of giving the novel a sense of place in both Old Mexico and New Mexico. Her characters are engaging and complex. Her writing style is, indeed, reminiscent of more established (indeed legendary) Hispanic authors. Perhaps this is why I was so disappointed in the novel itself. For the first two-thirds or so, the novel progresses wonderfully and draws you into the lives of these remarkable characters. It's in the last third that, for me, it all falls apart. The end of the novel wraps up too quickly compared to the pace established at the beginning with many of the characters' stories being finished unsatisfactorily, or not at all (some characters simply are not mentioned again.

I have just read that this is the first novel of a trilogy, so perhaps the next two will pick up the threads of some of the missing characters' lives. Unfortunately, when I initially read the book I don't remember any indication that it was one of three so I was expecting it to stand on its own and it didn't quite do that.
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Well how wonderful was that! Sigh. I felt as I've been visiting with some of my old friends and that the characters in this book are out there mingling with those from The Hummingbird's Daughter, Like Water for Chocolate and Rain of Gold. Like Luis Urrea, Laura Esquivel and Victor Villasenor, Kathleen Alcala is a master storyteller sharing a bit of the country's history along with a richly complicated genealogy, a setting that gallops north and south across deserts and mountains and more than a few hints of magic/paranormal/healing/faith/ (whatever it is I like it).

Now to postpone the rest of my life so I can read the next in the trilogy (Flower in the Skull) more quickly
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