Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Lotería : A Novel by Mario Alberto Zambrano
With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of Lotería cards - a Mexican version of bingo featuring bright, colorful images.
Neither the social worker assigned to her case nor her Aunt Tencha, who desperately pleads for her niece's release, can cajole Luz to speak. The young girl's only confidant is her journal. Within its pages, Luz addresses an invisible higher power, sharing her secrets.
Using the Lotería cards as her muse, Luz picks one card from the deck with each shuffle. Each of the card's colorful images - mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, stars - sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl's life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.
Mexican bingo aka loteria - wow! Talk about a blast from the past! I used to love playing loteria when I was a kid. We'd use pinto beans as our markers and play 2 to 4 cards at a time. I only ever played 2 cards at the most - I didn't think I could handle more. We played for money and the pot would usually be around $100. Of course, everyone was always too busy chattering to one another to really pay attention to the game. Except me, I was laser-focused, because I wanted to win BIG! Cripes, I'm getting nostalgic just thinking about it. And, I think that's why I loved Zambrano's book, Lotería - it reminded me of my childhood, my family, my culture (except for the bad stuff that happened to Luz and her family).
This book felt like home to me and I enjoyed every minute of it. I loved reading about Luz and her sister, Estrella. Their love-hate relationship felt real and authentic to me. Like any sister knows, there is always two sides to one story and that is a huge part of the book. Luz knows the truth, but refuses to acknowledge it, whilst Estrella is willing to tell others and try to get help. Its hard to watch these two fight over the ugly realities occurring all around them - their dad beating their mom, their dad beating them, their dad's alcoholism, their mom leaving them, and the sad truth that life is not getting better - it seems to be getting worse! And, then there is Luz's truth - the one she refuses to talk about. The one she writes about in her journal that she keeps under her bed. You see, Luz's dad is in jail, her sister is in the hospital (and then the cemetery), and Luz is being held in custody. Counselors and Tencha try to get through to Luz, but no one can. So, she flips through a deck of loteria cards and writes down the memory that each image sparks. She writes these memories that reveal the good and the bad of her world. Each card leads us readers to a new character in Luz's life story or to a new memory. It is through these short stories (vignettes, really) that we learn the awful truth about what happened to Estrella. Its a twist you don't expect and that will leave you shocked and beyond saddened.
Lotería is a well written book that is comprised of vignettes (a la Cisnero's The House on Mango Street). Except that Zambrano uses loteria cards to inspire each vignette in his book, which I think works perfectly for Luz' story. She's young, terrified, and doesn't know what to say or do - these loteria cards bring a sense of normalcy, familiarity to her (something she desperately needs). Also, I found Zambrano's descriptions of the foods, music, people, and their lives to be spot on in so many ways - I felt he really captured aspects of the Mexican culture. I also loved how he threw in Spanish phrases here and there - it added a dimension of authenticity to the story. I say that, because that is how I talk - English, with bits of Spanish thrown in (depending on who I'm talking with). I feel like Zambrano created something special with the character of Luz - he told a dark story through a child's eyes and that somehow made it all the more tragic and real. Because though Zambrano's story is fiction, so many of the things he wrote about ring so true. This is one book that I won't be forgetting.
I would most definitely recommend Lotería anyone and everyone looking for a good book to read. You will not be disappointed!!
Check out the TLC Book tour schedule to read other reviews of this fantastic book: Lotería