June 14, 2006
Mexico, Mexico, Part 2
Last column we introduced the novel of the talented writer Luis Urrea, The Hummingbird's Daughter and invited readers to peruse it for what it had to offer not only as an informative take on present day issues about Mexico, but also as a work with deeper philosophical and psychological power to enrich our lives.
The story of a real historical figure, Teresita, a famous healer and activist of the late 19th century, who like so many Mexican patriots ended up in exile in the United States, the novel offers many levels of satisfaction. The writing is superb, poetic, deep, rich and evocative. We have to cherish that kind of literary offering. Very much like taking a walk in the spring on the beach, Urrea's prose excites and elevates all our sensibilities. So savoring, an important act of self-caring which I have touted many times in this column, is easily accomplished by reading this work. If you are a food maven then be warned that the descriptions of food are so tantalizing and powerful that you will be rushing out to find the very best Mexican restaurant you can as you read this work (Fortunately, we have a couple out here on the East End).
Also, however, be prepared for direct, brutal and graphic descriptions of human cruelty and violence. The history of atrocities of the various Mexican regimes against their own people are legendary and Urrea spares no detail to bring that sad and tragic panorama to life in the novel.
But this brings us to the important dimension of the novel as far as the purposes of this column are concerned, and that is the unquenchable thirst of humans for freedom and meaning and their willingness to rise up and fight if necessary to try to achieve this. It is a tale of heroism and transcendence peppered with great good humor and irony. Additionally, it has a spiritual dimension, not an overtly religious one, but a definite emphasis on the precious something within each person that moves us and inspires us to try to be better human beings ourselves.
The character Huila, an older female healer who works as a domestic on a huge ranchero in the novel and is the doctor for all, the masters and the servants of every stamp, is truly a masterpiece of narrative brilliance. She has no formal education of any kind, but she has imbibed the learnings of the various cultures of the past, and her methods and psychological acumen allow her to successfully treat even severe physical as well as psychological injuries. Her attitude is stoic but upbeat. She sees the dark dimensions of human behavior every day and its bloody results, but she never loses sight of simple beauty and concrete pleasures. She is the de facto mother and teacher of Teresita who is endowed with a special personality, power and mission. Much like in the last book we spoke of, The Alchemist, she is possessed of a deep and critical Personal Legend that she attempts to fulfill, against all the odds and powers of the then regime arrayed against her. How she comes to be what she was and how she deals with those seemingly impossible challenges is what awaits you when you read this work. It will brighten your days for a long while. Let me know what you think.