I just finished reading the most remarkable book by Luis Urrea called The Hummingbird’s daughter. It was absolutely astounding and I would encourage everyone to run out and buy a copy of it right away.
The book is based upon a relative, a distant aunt or cousin who was something of a legend called the Saint of Cabora – Teresita Urrea, a sixteen year old illegimate daughter of Cayetana, an indigenous woman called the Hummingbird and Don Tomas Urrea, the powerful rancher.
The book begins with Teresita’s birth in the poorest of circumstances. Her mother abandons her and leaves her with an aunt who mistreats her and abuses her. Teresita is a strong and determined child and overcomes much. She is determined and driven and somehow finds her way to the ranch where she meets Huila, a crusty and wonderful old curandera. Huila finds something in Teresita, a power to be reckoned with and begins to teach her the indigenous ways of healing, of plants, of power and dreaming.
As Teresita grows to young womanhood, she learns more and more. She demands to be taught to read, something even the rich lady wife of Don Tomas isn’t allowed to do. Teresita learns. She learns of the unrest in Mexico as well, learns of the whispers of revolution and the plight of the Yaqui Indians. She learns more of healing from an apprenticeship with an old curandero at Cabora and begins to feel her own power.
There comes a day when Teresita finds out that Don Tomas is her father and he in turn realizes she is in fact his daughter. He brings her to live in the ranch house and tries to turn his wild daughter into a young lady. Teresita again proves her strength and fights for her independence. She will only concede so much. She continues to do her healing, to work as a partera or midwife with Huila. She and Tomas have long discussions, argue about politics and novels. She begins to blossom.
One day something terrible happens and Teresita lies in a coma from which everyone believes she is dead. The doctors can do no more for her and a coffin is made. Imagine everyone’s surprise when she awakens! Now Teresita is more powerful than ever and has the gift of prophecy. Pilgrims flood Cabora and Teresita is worn out with all the healing. She begins to be a threat to the Diaz regime as well as the Catholic Church and insists on writing political commentary and demands the land back for the people who work it.
This is an amazing book and an equally amazing journey into a life before the revolution. Mr. Urrea is a fantastic storyteller who writes with conviction and amazing poetry. The language of the book is stunning, intense and panoramic.
Teresita, Tomas, Huila and the rest of the characters were so real to me that I could see them. There is Aguirre, an engineer turned revolutionary, Buenaventura, the bastard son of Tomas who is hated as much as Teresita is loved, Loreto, Tomas' wife, Gabriela, his mistress and other rich characters. Each of the characters in this amazing book crackle with life and energy.
Two decades were spent researching and writing this novel that is based on old family stories about his aunt Teresita. His descriptions are vivid, colorful and magical. The Sonoran desert, the ranch, the corrupt political officials, bandits and Rurales are all vividly portrayed. This is truly a book to be treasured and read over and over. It is simply remarkable.