Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Luis Alberto Urrea - Into the Beautiful North

Host Aggie Zivaljevic filed this report on a recent event at Kepler's:

Luis Alberto Urrea came to Kepler's for an afternoon event on June 9th, 2009, accompanied by his beautiful wife Cindy (see the photo). Cindy's real name is Cinderella, after her great great-grandmother. On his publisher's website Luis Alberto Urrea wrote: "I'm happily married to Cinderella. We have three kidlets: Eric, Megan and Rosario. We have a cat named Annie Oakley. And we have a parrot named Periquito.You can usually find Cinderella and me driving across America...with Goth rock and Techno and Latino music blasting out the windows. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I will come back as Emiliano Zapata."

This was his second visit to Kepler's. The first time he toured for his book the Hummingbird's Daughter, a continuous bestseller here at Kepler's. It took him 20 years to research and write this historical novel, based on his great aunt Teresita, or Santa Teresita, considered to be a Mexican Joan of Arc.

Mr. Urrea didn't read from his new novel Into the Beautiful North. Instead, perhaps inspired by the intimate setting and audience, he decided to informally talk about his life and work. He was born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother. Early in his childhood, his family moved to San Diego, California. He went to school in Logan Heights and then in Clairemont. He found his way out of despair through books and art. Luis spoke with bewilderment and pride about his little book being translated around the world, in far away places such as China and India. He learned that there is even such a thing as the Hummingbird Club in New Delhi, meeting once a month and wearing Teresita t-shirts! Hummingbird's Daughter has been made into a movie starring Antonio Banderas and Ivana Barquero (who recently had a role in Pan's Labyrinth).

He said that he wrote his latest novel, Into the Beautiful North, because he just wanted to have fun and make a lot of people happy, especially now, during the recession. His publicist characterized it as "Cinema Paradiso meets 'The Magnificent Seven' for girls." The story begins in the coastal Mexican village of Tres Camarones (Three Shrimps), abandoned by its men. The absent men have left a vacuum and the town women step in, led by the town first female mayor Aunt Irma and a young girl Nayeli. It’s a mythical tale in which the women take the role of the knights and save the place they love. Nayeli travels from Mexico all the way to Kankakee, Illinois to bring a couple of guys back and to find her father.

A man in the audience commented admirably on Luis' previous book 6 Kinds of Sky: A Collection of Short Fiction and its afterwords titled Amazing Grace: Story and Writer. The first story from the collection Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush is coming out as a graphic novel in 2010, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale. The story takes place in Rosario, which is for Luis his equivalent of Macondo. Actually, when Gabriel Marquez published One Hundred Years of Solitude, people from Rosario said that Marquez used Rosario as his model for Macondo!

Here is an excerpt from Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush: “My village is named El Rosario. Perhaps being named after a rosary was what gave us our sense of importance, a sense that we from Rosario were blessed among people, allowed certain dispensations. The name itself came from a Spanish monk, or was it a Spanish soldier, named Bonifacio Rojas who broke his rosary and the beads cascaded over the ground." Another story Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses(from the same collection) has been read on NPR selected shorts.
Luis now lives in in a 2-story house in Naperville, Illinois, in a 1958 neighborhood, a bucolic place with trees and green lawns. He writes in a loft (in between the bedrooms), at his desk by the window looking out onto a giant red oak. He tends to listen to a loud music while writing, such as Black Sabbath. He surrounded himself with books; poetry on his left side and Mexican history and religious books on his right, a few cherished objects such as bird feathers, Godzilla figurine, Route 66 sign, etc. Writing is a spiritual experience for Luis. He carries his notebook all the time and writes all the time. Yes, he is on Tweeter and recommends it as a great tool for practicing writing one line at the time!

At the end of his talk Luis announced that he has a gift for the audience. Cindy distributed plastic-coated paper fans with the drawing (artwork by Christopher Cardinale) of Tacho, a gay character from Into the Beautiful North. Above Tacho's head an inscription reads La Mano Caida, which means fallen hand, as Tacho's defiant way of boldly announcing his gayness in order to survive in an extremely macho society.

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