It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means it’s Give a Sh*t Book Club time! This month’s pick is The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea, which the publisher describes as the definitive Mexican-American immigrant story.
I have to admit, this one took me a while to get into. The de La Cruz family is big, so there are lots of characters to keep track of through multiple generations. On top of that, the storyline shifts from past to present, to further in the past, and back again. I was working so hard to keep track of who everyone was, I didn’t have much headspace left for what Urrea was doing on a deeper level.
Something happened though in the last third of the book that brought it all together for me. Big Angel and Little Angel had those conversations lying in bed together, maybe being as honest as they’d ever been with each other. It was painful, it was awkward, but their honesty really got me in the feels. Even as I could see how sad Big Angel’s situation was, I thought how sweet and good it was for him to have a chance to say the things he needed to say to the people who mattered most to him. It made me think about what constitutes a “good” death. I think Big Angel had as good a death as anyone could hope for.
Another aspect that resonated for me was Big Angel’s reflection on things he had done in the past that he regretted or felt guilty about. It seems like a given, even a cliché maybe, to say that no one lives a perfect life, but if we’re lucky enough to live as long as Big Angel, we’re going to do things that hurt others, things that haunt us, things we would take back if we could. I really admired Big Angel’s efforts to face those things squarely and own them, and then to try to atone for them. The line when he says, “I am so dirty”—who hasn’t felt that way? That feeling that if people really knew you, they wouldn’t love you anymore? Big Angel’s struggle with those feelings made me want to give him and his whole family a big hug.
I read another book by Urrea, Into the Beautiful North, a while back, so I knew to expect dashes of his signature humor, and I was not disappointed in that regard. The scene at the border with the parrot in the cleavage! Perhaps not what we’ve come to expect from a story about crossing the border, but damn, that’s comedy gold. I also loved the scene when Big Angel faced down the gangbanger and set him away with his tail between his legs. Another situation that could have been scary and dangerous ends up defused by humor.
I’m glad I stuck with this one because by the end I realized I’d gotten a lot out of it. Hope you liked it too! Comments are open below. Can’t wait to hear what you thought of The House of Broken Angels!