Hispanic Heritage #OwnVoices

By Carolina W. and Gabriela P.

Tomorrow marks the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month, and in culmination and in the spirit of #OwnVoices, HCLS presents two book reviews written by Latina staff members about Hispanic authors. Read to the end to find out about classes this week in celebration of Hispanic Heritage!

By Gabriela P.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea sweeps the reader away with the timeless intimacy of a family chronicle. Absolutely stunning prose brings irresistible characters to life as they move through physical borders, family relationships, and personal struggles. The novel presents a Mexican-American family recounting their family’s history with bittersweet humor. The predictable immigration tale set-up is given a fresh makeover with the uninhibited and blunt depiction of a complicated reality.

Urrea doesn’t shy away from presenting a raw clumsiness in the characters’ interactions. Their emotions came across so authentically that I often felt myself getting goosebumps while reading! I was happy to discover that the theme that struck me the most was completely unexpected. Others who have reviewed the book frequently comment on the hierarchy, since a lot of the narrative revolves around “Big Angel”, the patriarch of the family. But I found that it was, in fact, the women of the family who drove the story. Though easily missed in favor of the more dramatic plot points, as the family’s history is recounted, the women’s strength and resiliency is cemented. Without giving the ending away, I can say that I was delighted to see women in roles usually reserved for men, and even more so that their strength was recognized.

I can find parallels to my own family’s history in the novel, and I definitely found myself identifying with one of the characters…but I won’t say which one!

The House of Broken Angels is also available as an ebook and eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

By Carolina W.

In Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Tita De La Garza, the youngest daughter in a family living in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century, is born in her kitchen, establishing her connection to cooking. Pedro Muzquiz asks for Tita’s hand in marriage but Mama Elena, Tita’s tyrannical mother, says Tita is forbidden to marry because of family tradition. Pedro then marries Tita’s sister, Rosaura, to be close to Tita. Gertrudis, the eldest daughter of Mama Elena, escapes the ranch after reacting mysteriously to one of Tita’s recipes. Rosaura gives birth to a son, Roberto, who is delivered by Tita, who treats him as her own. After Mama Elena arranges for Rosaura’s family to move to San Antonio, Texas, Tita is devastated when several tragedies challenge her health and sanity. The ending is hopeful, however, as John Brown, a local American doctor, patiently restores love and health to her life and helps rehabilitate her soul.

As a Latina who grew up in Texas near the Mexican border, it was natural to be drawn to read Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate. I was fascinated to find out about the Mexican culture’s family traditions, particularly because my family cherishes traditions so strongly. The main conflict in this novel is a family custom which forbids the youngest daughter from marrying so that she will be free to take care of her mother. This dilemma sincerely captured my attention as did the delicious recipes which are used to represent the characters’ feelings and situations and Tita De La Garza’s and Pedro Muzquiz’s tragic, passionate love story.

Like Water for Chocolate is also available in Spanish in our World Language collection.

Carolina is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves Mexican food, having fun, and adventure.

HCLS offers the following three classes in recognition and celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Please join us (follow the links to register)!

Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month Fall Teen Trivia! (Online)

Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month Kahoot! Trivia on Zoom

Hispanic Heritage: A Celebration of Stories (Online)

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Review by Claudia J.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is here! What better to celebrate than to read a novel amplifying amazing authors? In honor of recognizing Hispanic stories this month as well as year-round, I highly suggest a harrowing novel I read recently. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras tells the journey of the Santiagos and their lifelong connection with their maid, Petrona Sanchez. Set in Colombia at the height of the Pablo Escobar-era of its history, this novel is loosely based on Contreras’ life. Knowing this fact only further intensified the emotions I felt as I experienced this story. 

Told from the perspectives of Chula Santiago, the youngest daughter of the Santiago family, and Petrona Sanchez, Fruit of the Drunken Tree begins with a photograph, one that asks many questions but provides many answers. Yet, to know the extent of the photo, Chula takes readers to the past, to her privileged life exploring her gated community with her sister Cassandra, to the experience of having a new maid arrive at their home. Chula’s persistence at forging a friendship with Petrona provides an ongoing struggle that she faces for much of the novel. With the backdrop of ongoing violence, kidnappings, and drug trafficking, Chula explores these situations with curiosity, confusion, and occasional fear, while Petrona spends much of her life experiencing it firsthand. Slowly, readers begin to wonder who the real enemy is, as most Colombians in the novel are unsure themselves. 

Ultimately, the intimate moments of prose that Contreras provides hooked me in, and I found myself afraid for these characters and their outcome. There are several moments that left me uncomfortable and were tough to read. Nevertheless, Fruit of the Drunken Tree is beautifully written and told with such detail that enhanced my learning about Colombia during this intense time period. 

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras is available now at HCLS in print and ebook formats. Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15! Visit hclibrary.org and explore our catalog for more materials celebrating Hispanic culture and heritage.

Claudia J. has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.