Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hot Sunday #2: reading Urrea

Besides writing, my other assignment this weekend is lots of household chores and they can't be postponed because we have an out of town guest coming to stay with us. So somehow, despite the heat, I've had to go to the laundromat, the grocery store, the greengrocer etc. Non-New-Yorkers, please note that automobiles are not involved in performing these tasks. It's all about shlepping under the hot sun. And here, inside our even hotter apartment, I've got to clean the bathroom, change the linens and take care of other assorted odds and ends. Ah the glamorous life of the unknown writer. Feel sorry for me?

Hey, don't. Because in between all the shlepping and sweating, I'm taking little breaks, ducking into the bedroom, aka the air-conditioned sanctuary, and reading another chapter in the wonderful novel in which I'm currently engrossed: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. A few years back I read Urrea's first novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, and liked it a lot, and my lover Teresa read this new one last month and raved about it, so I'm not surprised that it has such a grip on me. Delighted even so. I'm about two-thirds of the way through and it's probably premature to say much, but I couldn't wait to comment on it because Urrea does something in this novel that is extremely hard to pull off and I admire him for it a great deal. He takes on a grim, difficult, serious topic -- what NAFTA has done to Mexico, what the resultant realities of life are for the mass of Mexicans, and especially, for Mexican migrants to the U.S. -- and brings it to stirring, funny, heartfelt life. He tells a very particular, very imaginative and original story, tells it with the lightest touch, with lots of humor and oh so much humanity. There is a sweetness running through this novel, not treacly but genuine and touching. I love the characters. I'm smitten with them, and with Urrea for what he's done here.

He is perhaps best known for his fine works of nonfiction about the horrors faced by the masses of Mexican workers who undertake the nearly impossible effort to get across the border, driven by hunger and desperation and love for their suffering families. Two especially are much acclaimed: Across the Wire and The Devil's Highway. I need to read them both. Teresa, who spends her days as an immigrant-rights organizer, read Across the Wire and tells me it is an extremely painful, truthful book.