three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
57-Mar-Apr-2012
user_rating: 
0

A-Queen-of-America-1Luis Alberto Urrea earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his depiction of Mexican immigrants in The Devil's Highway: A True Story ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection July/Aug 2004). He based his acclaimed novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter (4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2005), on the childhood and teenage life of his great aunt, Saint Teresita Urrea of Cabora. Queen of America is the follow-up to that work.

The Story: In The Hummingbird's Daughter, Teresita Urrea, a young healer and a vocal revolutionary in Porfirio Diaz's late 19th-century Mexico, was forced into exile. In this sequel, Teresita and her father, Don Tomas, leave the latter's large ranches and escape assassins by crossing the border into El Paso, Texas. At first, father and daughter marvel at their new country, with its baseball games, flush toilets, and streetcars, but change proves difficult for both of them as they grow estranged. And Teresita, who continues to be pursued by dangerous men and faithful pilgrims as her picaresque journey takes her from El Paso to San Francisco's cable cars, the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and high-society Manhattan, learns that her powers may be more of a burden than a gift.
Little, Brown. 496 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780316154864

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars"I am happy to report, a bit wet-eyed, that this new work holds its own, cleverly written so that a reader could take up the saga here. ... The descriptions of landscapes are as rich as loam; the food and the feasting dilate our eyes and flood our mouths." Karen R. Long

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars"Turn-of-the-century America, particularly New York, comes alive at his fingertips: [Urrea] sees both the silk and the mud. ... In imagining the story of his great-aunt Teresita, Urrea might have chosen to make her a hero; that would have been easier. What we get is more complicated, more modern." Carolyn Kellogg

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars"[L]ushly written and smartly told." Jim Carmin

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars"The nation's adolescence is mirrored by Teresa's journey of self-discovery. If The Hummingbird's Daughter is the portrait of a young girl burning with the fire of sainthood, Queen of America is the story of a saint in exile, coming to terms with the meaning of her powers and finding her place in an unfamiliar society." Michael David Lukas

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars"Teresa's life meanders without convincing purpose, and so does the narrative of Urrea's novel. ... The result is a novel that's too episodic to be effectively suspenseful, and too facile to engage as nuanced portrait." Marcela Valdes

Critical Summary

"Urrea has given us that rare breed of literary sequel, a story that will satisfy fans of the original while standing solidly on its own," remarked the San Francisco Chronicle, and most critics agreed. Although many follow-ups are often met with skepticism, Urrea's evocative look at turn-of-the-century America stands on its own (though reading the prequel will make for a richer experience). The culinary descriptions are particularly noteworthy, and the complex, often tumultuous, relationship between Don Tomas and Teresita will resonate with fathers and daughters from any century. Several reviewers found the narrative overburdened with historical minutiae, which comes as no surprise given that Urrea spent two decades researching the life of his famous ancestor. But more than a few readers will agree with the Cleveland Plain Dealer's assessment that "Queen of America reads like a thrill, and its conclusion feels like a blessing."