Maybe as close to a discourse on the meaning of life as you’re ever going to find, THE HOUSE OF BROKEN ANGELS tells of Big Angel, the patriarch of the extended Mexican/American De La Cruz family. It’s the day of his 70th birthday party, only a week before he will die of cancer. Everyone knows he is dying. He’s been taking chemotherapy and growing weaker and weaker until he can no longer walk, can no longer change himself, or even get to his pills without aid. But there’s going to be a party in the grand Mexican style, complete with mariachis… only (for some reason) without the Mexican food, just KFC and hamburgers, and potato salad, and, of course, lots and lots of birthday cake.
The party is a huge success, everyone comes, even people no one ever expected. They give the members of the family a chance to get to know and understand each other in ways they never did before.
The book and the family are full of characters so unique and yet so real that they seem to breathe… and to speak directly to the reader. Their lives are not simple, there are drug deals, legal and illegal border crossings, extreme poverty, intense love, lust, longing even in the face of death. There are at least incestuous desires, bitter hatred, jealousy and rivalries, forgiveness and the lack of it, suffering and tragic deaths. Bad, bad things are done in the name of parenting and family. But above all of this, there is also exuberance and joy and real humor that helps us understand how this poor family and many like them were able to endure the hardships they had to face.
I’ll admit I am a great fan of the author, Luis Alberto Urrea. His works have inspired and influenced many of my own novels and helped me understand the hardships and needs of Mexican immigrants at a time when that understanding is very important.