- Fizzy Thoughts: Into the Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North

Thursday, July 30, 2009

beautiful north
Into the Beautiful North
Luis Alberto Urrea
May 2009
352 pages

The Hummingbird’s Daughter is a book that I’ve never read, but that I’ve picked up countless times at the bookstore.  Something about the title, or maybe the cover, tempts me.  But I never went so far as to actually buy the book.  Then, when I was at the LA Times Festival of Books, I attended a panel featuring (among others) Luis Alberto Urrea.  And he started off by reading a passage from his latest book, Into the Beautiful North.  I was hooked.  And I loved the panel…along with Thrity Umrigar and Gina Nahai, Urrea spoke about sense of place.  They discussed language and culture and how to give readers a sense of the place they are writing about.  Without ever reading a word he’d written, I became a fan.  As soon as the panel was over, I rushed out to buy the book.

And okay, then the book sat in the TBR pile for awhile.  But not too long!  Only about a month, which is actually pretty good, considering how much competition it had.

This book surprised me.  I didn’t expect it to be so funny, or so casual in tone.  And even though Urrea spoke about how he uses language to convey culture, I somehow didn’t expect how much language he would use, or how much culture he really could convey.  In that sense, this book is like Oscar Wao, only better.  Because while I didn’t understand every word, I certainly understood the tone and the intent. And I know some people don’t like this, but I would argue that there is so much Spanglish and humor that it is fairly easy to understand a great deal of the Spanish.  And without it, this book wouldn’t be as good as it is.  Besides, if you get totally stumped, there’s always Google and urbandictionary. :-)

Into the Beautiful North is the story of Nayeli and her friends, and their journey from Mexico to the US in search of men.  Not men for themselves, but men for their village.  Nayeli has come to the realization that all of the men in her town have left for the US…and they never came home.  Inspired by the film The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides that it’s time to follow them north and find seven men who will return with her to help protect and revitalize the town.  Additionally, Nayeli is determined to find her own father, who left years ago and never returned.  As Nayeli journeys north, she finds help in the unlikeliest of places, and amongst the unlikeliest of characters.

Along with the language, the genius in this book is in its characters.  They are all quirky, unique and lovable.  While I occasionally found myself shaking my head at their actions, I was still rooting for them all the way.  Atomiko!

And someday, I’m going to read The Hummingbird’s Daughter.

Powell’s has a wonderful interview with Urrea, in which he talks about all sorts of things, including Into the Beautiful North.  He’s also on Twitter, with his lovely wife Cindy, and I have to say, they are the nicest couple.  Because you can actually chat with them…and it’s like talking to your neighbors (only better, because my neighbors spend all their time staring at our house and freaking me out).  I always appreciate people who are approachable and unpretentious, so at the risk of sounding too fan girly, I’ll just end by saying Urrea is the bomb.  Both in real life and in print. 

13 comment(s):

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Interesting! I started it, but put it down. I'll have to try it again!

Ali said...

Nice review! I agree with you that the use of Spanish is well done--just enough to keep it interesting, without being overwhelming.

claire said...

So good to hear a positive review. I have this on my TBR and about to read next month or the next.

bermudaonion said...

I totally agree with you. I love the book and the Urreas - I got to meet them at BEA.

farmlanebooks said...

I have seen this a few times and have thought about buying a copy.

It is great to see that you enjoyed it.

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the review Jill....this one caught my eye a month or so ago.

Diane said...

Great review Jill. I started this one, but could not get into it at the time. I also have Hummingbird's Daughter.

ANovelMenagerie said...

I, too, really liked this book. I've read many bloggers' posts who have met him and just say such wonderful things about him. That's so cool! I liked the book and got most of the Spanish. I had to ask about for the swearing!

Here's my review: http://anovelmenagerie.com/2009/05/05/book-review-into-the-beautiful-north/

Beth F said...

I liked the book but I was not as taken with it as others. I do think he's an author to watch.

Melissa said...

I really liked Hummingbird's Daughter, more than I thought I would. I didn't know he had a new one out; I'll have to keep an eye out for it. Sounds good.

Veens said...

i really need to check this one out.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

I'm reading from your most current post down a few to this one, so I just read your review of the Jennie Nash book ... give yourself some time before you read HUMMINGBIRD'S DAUGHTER, especially since you were so taken by INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH; your observation about being disappointed when reading a second book by an author soon after you've read a first book is interesting (short-hand: don't set yourself up for disappointment!)

Yes, the Urreas are very approachable :)
fan-girly, ha!

Anna said...

I believe it was Kathy who dragged me and Serena over to the Urreas at BEA. I have this one on audio and can't wait to listen to it. I've heard good things about it.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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