Family Memoir: 'The Hummingbird's Daughter'

Alan Cheuse reviews The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. It's an historical novel based on the life of the author's long-lost relative.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Writer Luis Alberto Urrea was born in Tijuana and now lives in Chicago. His new novel, "The Hummingbird's Daughter," is based on the life of a long lost relative. Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE reporting:

Teresita Urrea, still unaware of her relationship to Tomas Urrea, the master of the ranch on which she was born out of wedlock, approaches the main house, decidedly forbidden territory for her. She takes the steps to the front porch. Amazed by the technology of the doorknob, amazed to see that the patroon didn't have a dirt floor, she sets her foot on a carpet and sinks her toes into its plush surface. Gold and red designs twine their way around its edge and its rich blue had roses and vines somehow woven into it. This broad and marvelously rendered account of Teresita's evocative life from childhood to putative sainthood takes place in the dangerous and amazing days in which Mexico saw the end of the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and the rise of North America's first modern revolution.

The book constantly stirs up the sights, the sounds, the passions of Teresita's life and times in the magical country in which she lived. The novelist writes conveying his own sense of wonder about a Mexico in which all Mexicans still dreamed the same dream. They dreamed of being Mexican. There was no greater mystery. Mexico was too big. It had too many colors. It was noisier than anyone could have imagined. Yes, a lot of color and a lot of noise, this gifted novelist has portrayed his ancestor and her life and her country with a vividness reminiscent of the masters of the trade.

BLOCK: The book is "The Hummingbird's Daughter" by Luis Alberto Urrea. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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