Oh man, I am very behind on blogging. I finished The House of Broken Angels, by Luis Alberto Urrea, back in April, and while I didn’t love it, I definitely do recommend it. It’s a beautifully expansive story although it primary takes place over the course of two days — covering the funeral of a family matriarch and the next day, the birthday party of her dying son who is the family patriarch. But you travel back in time with various narrators, particularly the dying patriarch Big Angel, learning much more about their lives.

This is very much the story of a big family, some characters get just a little time on stage, while the relationship between Big Angel and his wife and Big Angel and his brother (Little Angel) take center stage. (Which makes sense, because the author is loosely basing this novel on his life and he’s the little brother). There were moments where I really really wished that the author had included a family tree, although I read that this was intentional on his part, that he tried to be clear about everyone’s relationships, but he wanted the readers to put some effort in to keep track of everyone. And really, the slight confusion (who is this again??) fits well with the tone of the book — this is a big, messy family reunion, of course it feels a little nuts!

The book isn’t all about death, and really isn’t too much of a downer, but of course all the passages I marked were about death 🙂

And Big Angel was thinking: These children are so stupid; they think they are the first to discover the world.

I marked this one because I often feel this way in a sense; we are all figuring life and death and meaning and purpose out in our own time, and it feels new! Really, I think everyone has to make these discoveries for themselves, every time. Which is depressing right, there’s all this knowledge acquired, and yet, it is so hard for older people to pass it on — you just have to live your life and realize they were right (or maybe wrong) later when you get there yourself.

This book also does a beautifully heartbreaking job of really seeing female caregiving:

Big Angel was asleep when Perla [his wife] finally came int the room. Her days seemed endless. So much work to do, so much organizing, so much praying. She felt like she was carrying the tumors sometimes. But she dared not acknowledge that terrible thought. She did not deserve self-pity, she told herself. There would be time for that soon enough.

“All these things.” He opened his eyes and stared at [his daughter]. “I used to wash you,” he said. “When you were my baby.” She busied herself with the bottle of no-tears baby shampoo. “I used to be your father. Now I am your baby.” He sobbed. Only once. She blinked fast and put shampoo in her palm. “It’s okay,” she said. “Everything’s okay.” He closed his eyes and let her wash his hair.

It is so hard to take care of your parents, and I think (although not somethings I’ve experienced yet) must be so hard to have your kids take care of you. I really felt like Urrea captured this dynamic and a true way, without making it sickeningly sweet or maudlin.

Big Angel spends a lot of time thinking about death, and this one piece hit me:

Big Angel sighed. Rubbed his face. Thought about how much he’d miss rubbing his face. Everything was precious to him suddenly. Sighing. What a wonderful thing it was to sign. Geraniums. Why did he have to leave geraniums behind?

This is how I feel about death right now. I’m not done yet! I don’t want to leave geraniums behind. It also reminded me of this Terry Gross interview, who doesn’t love Terry Gross?

Also recently read: Women Talking and Mirror, Shoulder, Signal.

Currently reading: What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About