Epic . . . Rambunctious . . . Highly entertaining . . . Sorrowful and funny . . . Cheerfully profane . . . The quips and jokes come fast through a poignant novel that is very much about time itself . . . A powerful rendering of a Mexican-American family that is also an American family." Viet Thanh Nguyen, New York Times Book Review (cover review) " A raucous, moving, and necessary book...Intimate and touching...The stuff of legend...There's deep heart and tenderness in this novel. The House of Broken Angels is, at its most political, a border story...Chillingly accurate, they're heartbreaking, and infuriating." Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle " An immensely charming and moving tale...Urrea deftly inhabits many points of view, dreaming up an internal voice for each...It is a testament to his swift and lucid characterizations that one does not want to leave this party...A novel like The House of Broken Angels is a radical act. It is a big, epic story about how hard it is to love with all of your heart, and all of your familyregardless of which side of the border they live on." John Freeman, Boston Globe "The House of Broken Angels is a big, sprawling, messy, sexy, raucous house party of a book, a pan-generational family saga with an enormous, bounding heart, a poetic delivery, and plenty of swagger...More than once while reading the novel, I thought of James Joyce's 'The Dead,' another kaleidoscopic fable of family life that skillfully mixes perspectives... The House of Broken Angels is a book about celebration that is, itself, a celebration." Michael Lindgren, Washington Post "Urrea's gifts as a storyteller are prodigious...The book's spirit is irrepressibly high. Even in its saddest moments, The House of Broken Angels hums with joy...The novel overflows with the pleasure of family...And all that vulnerability, combined with humor and celebration and Urrea's vivid prose, will crack you open." Lily Meyer, NPR " The House of Broken Angels is a big, messy, warmhearted epic, over-flowing with color and character...With bird's eye agility, Urrea moves between borders and generations...His narrative is imbued with the timeless texture of every immigrant's hope's and dreams... Generous to the last breath." Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly "A whirling fiesta of a book...Filled with intelligence and wickedly funny cultural commentary, the story builds to an electrifying finale." Marion Winik, People "Humane and often laugh-out-loud hilarious." O, The Oprah Magazine "A sprawling yet intimate tale...rich in detail and images...It's the sort of book you might read, as I did, in one long, breathless push." Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times " Generous and big-hearted... The House of Broken Angels soars on wings of memory and imagination into the 'imperfect and glorious, messy and hilarious' tragedy and comedy of family history." Diana Postlethwaite, Minneapolis Star-Tribune "Urrea spins some wonderful phrases as he leads us through his throng of characters...You couldn't ask for a more vivid sense of place either, whether you're talking physical surroundings or the way people think and speak. There's a telling moment when Little Angel ponders freeway traffic 'rushing past the invisible barrio, unaware of the lives up here, the little houses, all these unknowable stories.' The House of Broken Angels makes them known." Michael Upchurch, Chicago Tribune "Urrea's touch is sure, his exuberance carries you through...Everything is mined for a humor that rings raw and true...Urrea is a generous writer, not just in his approach to his craftwith sentences piling up in fat swaths of conversation, tall stories, tragedies, colorbut in the broader sense of what he feels necessary to capture about life itself...It is one of the miracles of literature that you adopt families not your own, places that are alien to your experience, into your own memories. The de La Cruzes will feel to many readers like their own relatives: exasperating, dysfunctional, riven by loss, full of juice, and ultimately real." Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times "Bestselling novelist Urrea celebrates family as he digs deep into the small moments and big questions of life. 'Love is the answer,' he writes. 'Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death.'" Jane Ciabattari, BBC "The story of the de La Cruzes is the quintessential American story...It takes us into a world we have not known, while reflecting back on the hopes and dreams of our own families." Adam Morgan, Chicago Review of Books "Clamoring and joyful...A story of crossed borders: the U.S.-Mexico border, of course, across which the family immigrated years ago, but also the borders between versions of history and between life and death...Urrea's affection for his characters is contagious, and the reader feels as though she's been welcomed to the party...Big Angel proves himself courageous in the face of death. But above all, he is courageous in his love, and the novel is beautifully unapologetic in this affirmation...A brimming, expansive novel." Kirstin Valdez Quade, Newsday "This brilliant (truly, like a multi-faceted gem) novel is intimate in its revelations of one beautifully complicated family, but epic in the way in which it portrays a myriad of human experiences...A novel that is explosive and empathetic, and a much-needed depiction of what life is like for this very American family, as it straddles different worlds and ways of being." Kristen Iversen, Nylon "The kind of sweeping family saga you lose yourself inbig and warm, and rich with history and love and culture." Samantha Irby, Marie Claire "Luis Alberto Urrea's new novel is an unforgettable family epic, a sweeping story that takes place over one weekend in San Diego in which a family unspools storieslegendary, mythic, and utterly entertainingthat have been passed down to them and which bring to life a vivid rendering of the Mexican-American immigrant experience in America." Caroline Rogers, Southern Living " The House of Broken Angels is a love song to the Mexican-American family." Time "Unfailingly personal and deeply poignant...a deft celebration of the Mexican-American family." Harper's Bazaar "The Mexican American poet and storyteller weaves another great yarn." John Timpane, The Philadelphia Inquirer "A novel about humanity and all its marvelous mess... The House of Broken Angels succeeds in its depiction of the pettiness and love that so peculiarly intertwine in families.In particular, the relationship between Big Angel and Little Angel is loving and fraught, heightened by the sense that they must get it all out in the open with too little time. Urrea has clearly written from the heart...His novel is an intimate tribute to the bonds we don't get to choose, but to which we owe everything." Grace Parazzoli, Santa Fe New Mexican "Like the De la Cruz family, Urrea's writing is exuberant, unruly, and sometimes profane, filled with splashes of Spanglish and sensual imagery...The writing is political, too, as the author describes the often arbitrary cruelty of the border that has shaped the characters' lives...The author's humor does not diminish the daily horrors on America's border; it merely reveals the awfulness more clearly." Sarah Tory, High Country News "What Urrea achieves in this sprawling and sensual novel is remarkable. Every paragraph holds its own; but together they tell the whole messy story of a family that, at its essence, mirrors your own." Sarah Bagby, KMUW "Engrossing and indispensable...This is a tender, passionate, loving and violent book, just like la familia...They have their squabbles and secrets, their grudges and crushes, their rivalries and resentments. But for every moment of sorrow, there are two moments of joy; for every fear, a glimmer of potential...This sincere family epic should be read all over our land of immigrants." Cory Oldweiler, amNewYork "Luis Alberto Urrea's The House of Broken Angels is a vivid portrait of one Mexican-American family in San Diego and the complexities of immigration and heritage. The patriarch of the De La Cruz family decides to throw a huge birthday party in the last days of his life, but his mother also dies in the days leading up to the event, leading to a bittersweet celebration of both of their lives and their family's legacy." Jarry Lee, Buzzfeed "A fascinating look at culture, family, and the roots that ground us to one another; Luis Alberto Urrea's The House of Broken Angels may be set around a 100-year-old's birthday party, but it reaches into every area of modern American life." PopSugar "Urrea dives head-first into the hearts and minds of some truly unforgettable characters. If you love a book that draws you in with masterful language and deep understanding of the human spirit, you're certainly in luck." Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle
There's nothing quite like a funeral to set a novelist's wheels in motion: All those characters forced into one place, all those chances to explore the performative nature of family relationships, all those lies and secrets to expose, all of our mortality to contemplate. In his fifth novel,
The House of Broken Angels, the pleasure is in watching Luis Alberto Urrea submit to every last opportunity the setup offers -- it's a big-hearted family epic that radiates with the joy of telling stories, undercut by the knowledge that the story eventually ends. Graham Swift knew it in Last Orders. García Márquez knew it in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Faulkner knew it in As I Lay Dying. Miguel Angel de la Cruz, the patriarch at the center of Urrea's story, is facing death twice in two days. The novel is set during the funeral for his mother and his seventieth birthday party the day after, events that he privately considers his farewell; he's been diagnosed with cancer and has weeks to live. So he savors his San Diego home becoming a gathering spot for his large extended family -- three siblings and many in-laws and grandkids who together form of cross-section of the American experience. His estranged son, Yndio, is a "non-cisgendered, non-heteronormative cultural liberation warrior." His half brother Gabriel, aka Little Angel, is an English professor in Seattle, studying his Mexican heritage from an academic remove. His son Lalo is an Iraq War vet mourning the death of another son, Braulio, to gang violence. All this is the legacy of Big Angel successfully bringing his wife across the Mexican border decades before, "when it became obvious that only hunger and dirt and rats and evil police waited for them in the poorest of the colonias where they could afford to live." But while Broken Angels is broadly a novel about the Mexican-American experience, that conceit breaks apart like a pointillist painting. At every turn Urrea is striving to unsettle assumptions about what "Mexican-American experience means" -- simple summaries are for Donald Trump and lesser stand-up comics. Big Angel, he writes, was "so famous for punctuality that the Americans at work used to call him 'the German.' Very funny, he thought. As if a Mexican couldn't be punctual. As if Vicente Fox was late to things, cabrones." The gringo culture that spins such stereotypes is mostly off to the side in the novel -- a snippet of raw-throated talk-radio chatter, a passing insult in a supermarket aisle. But Big Angel's enclave is plenty diverse in itself. Nearly all of the characters have multiple nicknames (Little Angel is "the Assimilator," Lalo is "Hungry Man") as if to highlight their complex and multitude-containing status, the way a person changes depending on who's doing the looking. Urrea carries all of this lightly, though, even sentimentally. The vibe of the novel isn't an elegy for the end of a clan that's lost its sense of identity but a tribute to a family that has acquired the freedom to make multiple identities for itself. "Little Angel thought it was all turning into an end-of-semester project for his multicultural studies course," Urrea writes. The line is funny because it's true: the party is filled with Dreamers, gangbangers, grandmas, and women "as magnificent as a velvet painting of an Aztec goddess in a taco shop." And the line is serious because Little Angel has missed the point -- a family is not a petri dish for pat notions about diversity. Urrea is consistently working through this tension throughout the book, keeping the tone upbeat while acknowledging the storm clouds in his characters' stories, sometimes decades worth of them. His strategies for lightening the mood can be shameless in their contrivance. A nephew of Big Angel sings in a black-metal band called Hispanic Panic and tourettically spouts headbanger mottos, while Little Angel's ivory-tower seriousness is undone by his lust for a sister- in-law. And Big Angel maintains a notebook in which he lists the things he's grateful for, moments where the strings swell ever- louder: "wildflowers after rain," "a day without pain," "a kiss from my brother." But another strategy Urrea uses is to not stay in one place too long: The silly scenes give way to the richly comic ones, the sentimental ones to the moments of somber pathos. And he's rightly confident that the mix of storytelling forms will cohere. The House of Broken Angels isn't exactly plotless -- it recalls Don DeLillo's quip that all plots tend toward death. But Urrea wants to assert a status, not a trajectory. Big Angel is an Everyman, "a rolling laugh riot . . . arbiter of bad jokes, spiritual insight, ice cream money, and shelter when they were bounced out of their houses or were let out of jail or rehab or needed to come in off the streets at midnight." And likewise, this Mexican-American novel is a retort to what such a novel ought to be. For a novel about death, there's a lot of life in it. Mark Athitakis is a writer, editor, critic, and blogger who’s spent more than a dozen years in journalism. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Washington City Paper, and many other publications. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle.
Reviewer: Mark Athitakis
The Barnes & Noble Review
…sorrowful and funny…highly entertaining…Dispelling the notion held by some Americans that all Mexicans have just crossed the border, Urrea creates a rambunctious de La Cruz family that lives in San Diego and "has been around here since before your grandparents were even born." Urrea is intent on both celebrating the particularities of Mexican-American life and attacking the anti-Mexican racism that has been a part of American culture ever since the United States conquered quite a bit of Mexico…The quips and jokes come fast through a poignant novel that is very much about time itself, especially the passing of time and the inevitability of death…Anger and sorrow are one pair of emotions that keeps surfacing throughout
The House of Broken Angels. So do love and pain, joy and resentment, hatred and reconciliation, backstabbing and tenderness. All complicated, all compelling in Urrea's powerful rendering of a Mexican-American family that is also an American family. And what is Urrea's novel but a Mexican-American novel that is also an American novel? American in the broadest possible sense, from the United States of America, north of the border, to Mexico and by implication all of the other countries south of the border that are also American.
The New York Times Book Review - Viet Thanh Nguyen
In Urrea’s exuberant new novel of Mexican-American life, 70-year-old patriarch Big Angel de la Cruz is dying, and he wants to have one last birthday blowout. Unfortunately, his 100-year-old mother, America, dies the week of his party, so funeral and birthday are celebrated one day apart. The entire contentious, riotous de la Cruz clan descends on San Diego for the events—“High rollers and college students, prison veternaos and welfare mothers, happy kids and sad old-timers and pinches gringos and all available relatives.” Not to mention figurative ghosts of the departed and an unexpected guest with a gun. Taking place over the course of two days, with time out for an extended flashback to Big Angel’s journey from La Paz to San Diego in the 1960s, the narrative follows Big Angel and his extended familia as they air old grievances, initiate new romances, and try to put their relationships in perspective. Of the large cast, standouts include Perla, Big Angel’s wife, the object of his undimmed affection; Little Angel, his half-Anglo half-brother, who strains to remain aloof; and Lalo, his son, trailing a lifetime of bad decisions. Urrea (The Hummingbird’s Daughter) has written a vital, vibrant book about the immigrant experience that is a messy celebration of life’s common joys and sorrows. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Despite the title, the Angels here are more damaged than broken, with even a promise of salvation—more than less—by title's end. Narrated by Urrea (The Water Museum), who has magnificently recorded most of his audio adaptations, this House comes to life across borders, generations, genders, and ages. The matriarch of the sprawling de la Cruz family is dead just as her eldest son, Miguel Angel—known as "Big Angel"—is about to celebrate a farewell birthday blowout before he succumbs to terminal cancer. Over the funeral/party double-header weekend, the extended clan gather in San Diego to eulogize and revel in the decades spent as family and strangers, as loved ones and pariahs. Amidst siblings, children, in-laws, nieces, nephews, spouses, and exes arrives Big Angel's half-brother, Seattle English professor Gabriel Angel. Armed with a notebook to keep track of who's who, Little Angel will finally figure out his rightful place. VERDICT Urrea's outstanding ability to individualize his extensive cast adds yet another enhancing layer to his already spectacular novel. ["An honest and moving portrayal of how families fall apart and come together during difficult times": LJ 2/1/18 review of the Little, Brown hc.]—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
A family saga that asks what it means to be American.Urrea (The Water Museum, 2015, etc.) tells the story of Miguel Angel de la Cruz, or Big Angel, who must bury his mother as he himself is dying. Before his death, though, he means to celebrate one last birthday. "He wanted a birthday, pues. A last birthday," Angel's sister explains, and from that simple statement, the entire book unfolds. Urrea is an accomplished writer of fiction and nonfiction; his novel The Hummingbird's Daughter was inspired by his great-aunt, the Mexican mystic Teresita Urrea, and The Devils' Highway: A True Story, which recounts a catastrophic border crossing, was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Here, he returns to his family as source, modeling Big Angel, or at least his circumstance, on his oldest brother, who died a month after their mother's funeral. The result is a novel that is knowing and intimate, funny and tragic at once. The de la Cruzes are a big clan, messy and complex. The members have competing agendas, secrets, but at the same time, all share a commitment to family. "All we do, mija," Big Angel tells his daughter, "is love. Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death." It's impossible to read that line (or, for that matter, this novel) without reflecting on the current American moment, in which Mexican-American families such as the de la Cruzes are often vilified. But if Urrea's novel is anything, it is an American tale. It is a celebration, although Urrea is no sentimentalist; he knows the territory in which his narrative unfolds. There is tragedy here and danger; these are real people, living in the real world. Still, even when that world intrudes, it only heightens the strength, the resilience, of the family. "He thought he was still alive to make his amends," Urrea writes of Big Angel. "He thought he was alive to try one last hour to unite his family. But now he knew…he was alive to save his boy's life. His youngest son."Even in death, Urrea shows, we never lose our connection to one another, which is the point of this deft and moving book.