A few years ago, I read Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter as part of a book club, and it served as my introduction to the genre of magical realism. The story of the author’s great-aunt Teresa Urrea, also known as the Saint of Cabora, blends history, legend, family stories, and imagination. Urrea’s sequel, Queen of America, was recently released in paperback, continuing Teresa’s amazing life story.
As the sequel opens, Teresa is heading for America after being forced out of Mexico by the government, accused of inciting revolution in the country. News of Teresa’s powers has traveled beyond her native land, and in the years to come, she will become known around the world. Healing people has been Teresa’s calling ever since awakening from a serious illness as a child, and throughout her lifetime, her name and her persona will be used by numerous people, often with little regard to the effect these acts have on Teresa as a person.
The appeal of this novel lies in the imagined perspective of Teresa herself. Urrea expands upon the known history of his famous family member, and he breathes life into the character of a young woman who has never known personal choice or freedom. Ever since acquiring her powers, Teresa has been ruled by the needs or wants of others. This novel sees her transformed from a 19 year old innocent girl to a 33 year old woman exposed to more worldly experiences than she ever could have imagined possible.
Teresa’s adult life takes her from a dusty town in Arizona to incredible cities such as San Francisco and New York, all around the turn of the twentieth century. Cultural shifts and technological advances are not the only factors leading her to feel so far removed from her humble beginnings as she reaches her thirties. In Urrea’s narrative, Teresa often feels torn about her calling and the ways in which it is used throughout her life. It’s hard to not feel compassion for a character whose life has been spent in service to others, but who repeatedly feels as if she has let down someone, whether it be her father, her God, or her People.
Luis Alberto Urrea writes this expansive novel with beautiful imagery and powerful phrasing. The various settings of the book are brought to life as much as the cast of characters, wholly imaginable and vivid. An escape into Queen of America is a trip through time and place alongside a fascinating historical figure whose humanity is as touching as her magic.
Read about Jennifer’s visit with Luis Urrea and find out more about the origin of these novels.
Dawn’s love affair with reading began in childhood and continues to be her most favored extra-curricular activity. When she can grab a spare moment, she also tries to blog a bit at my thoughts exactly.