Customer Reviews for

The Hummingbird's Daughter

Average Rating 4.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

A modern classic

Among the many outstanding qualities of Luis Urrea's magnificent novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, is that the story is substantially true. It is based on the historical record of his great aunt Teresa Urrea. The dialog and the personalities have been reconstructed, bu...
Among the many outstanding qualities of Luis Urrea's magnificent novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, is that the story is substantially true. It is based on the historical record of his great aunt Teresa Urrea. The dialog and the personalities have been reconstructed, but anyone who cares to research the matter as I have will learn that the incredible life of the Hummingbird's daughter, Teresita Urrea, is accurately depicted. Born out of wedlock to an illiterate Indian mother, she has no idea that her father is Don Tomás Urrea, rich landowner and freethinker in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. At about age six she is taken under the tutelage of an elderly Indian healer named Huila, whose name means ¿hummingbird¿ in the Indian language. From her Teresita learns the uses of healing plants and prayers and discovers an even greater gift: she actually has the power to heal by her touch. This causes problems. The ranch becomes crowded with thousands of pilgrims bearing the most pitiful ailments and afflictions, and the Mexican government, watchful to suppress any threats to its power, is suspicious of her growing fame. The shattering climax of the story calls that old cliché to mind: you can't make this stuff up. It wasn't! Unbelievable as it is, it happened. The Hummingbird's Daughter is the story of a girl coming to terms with her destiny, with the power of faith and miracles, and with a father's and daughter's discovery of what love is and the sacrifices it sometimes requires. The book is densely populated with cowboys, outlaws, wild Indians, men who drink too much, cantina beauties, mercy and cruelty, bravery and cowardice, and nature at its rawest. There are a fair number of Spanish words, untranslated, but these will not detract from the enjoyment of those who do not care to look them up. To add a historical note, the story is a wonderful snapshot of revolutionary Mexico along the American border. Finally, the prose style is marvelously poetic: easy to read, but magically evoking the character of Mexico in all its color and contradictions. The description of the various ways Mexicans prepare coffee as the sun dawns gradually across the country could be excerpted as a fine poem all by itself. I have read the book three times, and in its own way it has influenced my writing as much as Huckleberry Finn, with which it shares many qualities. I even bought a second copy to lend, so as not to risk my own, precious, annotated copy. I grew up in El Paso. Teresita lived there briefly, yet I had never heard of her. This is a shame: her story and this book deserve to be better known. Al Past is the author of the Distant Cousin series, reviewer for PODBRAM, and member of the Independent Authors Guild. He lives in south Texas. More about his books is at his DistantCousin dot net website.

posted by Anonymous on August 7, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Potential, but tiring

I checked this out from the library based on the reviews here. The basic story line is good, and I found myself interested in the characters. But the plot took so long to develop, it was an effort to stay committed. After halfway through the book, I realized I was sk...
I checked this out from the library based on the reviews here. The basic story line is good, and I found myself interested in the characters. But the plot took so long to develop, it was an effort to stay committed. After halfway through the book, I realized I was skipping paragraphs just to try and get to some activity. Beautiful, well-written langauge - colors and images are fantastic! But the plot just moves a bit too slowly for me.

posted by Anonymous on August 20, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2008

    A modern classic

    Among the many outstanding qualities of Luis Urrea's magnificent novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, is that the story is substantially true. It is based on the historical record of his great aunt Teresa Urrea. The dialog and the personalities have been reconstructed, but anyone who cares to research the matter as I have will learn that the incredible life of the Hummingbird's daughter, Teresita Urrea, is accurately depicted. Born out of wedlock to an illiterate Indian mother, she has no idea that her father is Don Tomás Urrea, rich landowner and freethinker in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. At about age six she is taken under the tutelage of an elderly Indian healer named Huila, whose name means ¿hummingbird¿ in the Indian language. From her Teresita learns the uses of healing plants and prayers and discovers an even greater gift: she actually has the power to heal by her touch. This causes problems. The ranch becomes crowded with thousands of pilgrims bearing the most pitiful ailments and afflictions, and the Mexican government, watchful to suppress any threats to its power, is suspicious of her growing fame. The shattering climax of the story calls that old cliché to mind: you can't make this stuff up. It wasn't! Unbelievable as it is, it happened. The Hummingbird's Daughter is the story of a girl coming to terms with her destiny, with the power of faith and miracles, and with a father's and daughter's discovery of what love is and the sacrifices it sometimes requires. The book is densely populated with cowboys, outlaws, wild Indians, men who drink too much, cantina beauties, mercy and cruelty, bravery and cowardice, and nature at its rawest. There are a fair number of Spanish words, untranslated, but these will not detract from the enjoyment of those who do not care to look them up. To add a historical note, the story is a wonderful snapshot of revolutionary Mexico along the American border. Finally, the prose style is marvelously poetic: easy to read, but magically evoking the character of Mexico in all its color and contradictions. The description of the various ways Mexicans prepare coffee as the sun dawns gradually across the country could be excerpted as a fine poem all by itself. I have read the book three times, and in its own way it has influenced my writing as much as Huckleberry Finn, with which it shares many qualities. I even bought a second copy to lend, so as not to risk my own, precious, annotated copy. I grew up in El Paso. Teresita lived there briefly, yet I had never heard of her. This is a shame: her story and this book deserve to be better known. Al Past is the author of the Distant Cousin series, reviewer for PODBRAM, and member of the Independent Authors Guild. He lives in south Texas. More about his books is at his DistantCousin dot net website.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 18, 2008

    Beautifully written

    This intriguing story grew on me with each page. Almost dreamlike, it filled my imagination until I felt like I was living the tale. What a joyful experience to fill your head with the imagery, history and culture of this time and place in Mexico. I highly recommend The Hummingbird's Daughter, and I will continue to pass it on as a gift until everyone I know has read it!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2008

    Potential, but tiring

    I checked this out from the library based on the reviews here. The basic story line is good, and I found myself interested in the characters. But the plot took so long to develop, it was an effort to stay committed. After halfway through the book, I realized I was skipping paragraphs just to try and get to some activity. Beautiful, well-written langauge - colors and images are fantastic! But the plot just moves a bit too slowly for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2008

    Great characters and use of humor

    One of my favorite books of all time. I loaned out my first copy and it was never returned, so I'm buying a second. Highly recommended for writing style and use of subtle humor.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2007

    An amazing, hilarious adventure for a young reader

    I loved this book. My mom loved it, and gave it to me to read for a school report. It was difficult yet intriguing in the first few chapters, but once i got the rhythm of the writing and language, it was a magical and interesting tale. I couldn't put the book down. The characters were described so well, that even when I wasn't reading the book, I was thinking of the details and character of each person I had pictured while reading the novel. It was like I was actually there.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2005

    A Sumptuous, Dazzling Novel

    In the harsh yet thriving landscape of Mexico, circa 1880, the poor, illiterate and unmarried Yaqui woman (known by her tribe as The Hummingbird), gave birth to Teresita with the help of the town's healer, the curandera called Huila. Huila-one of Urrea's most remarkable creations-is as cantankerous as she is powerful. So powerful in fact that she lives in a room behind the kitchen of the great hacienda owned by the wealthy Don Tomás Urrea. Don Tomás does not care much for religion but he knows that Huila is an asset and puts up with her magic as much as Huila puts up with her patrón's habit of spreading his seed despite having a beautiful, attentive wife and several children who populate the hacienda. Teresita eventually-and literally-wanders into Don Tomás's life and is subsequently taken under Huila's wing. Huila notices two things about this unusual girl: she resembles the Urrea family and she possesses the power to heal. Don Tomás ultimately owns up to paternity and is determined to make a lady out of this barefooted urchin. But as Teresita matures, her powers grow until all know that she is the curandera women should go to when they are about to give birth or when a child becomes ill. Then one day, when Teresita goes out to the fields, she is raped, beaten and eventually dies. But on the third day, at the end of burial preparations, in the midst of five mourning women, Teresita awakes. The town is abuzz with news of this miracle. With her resurrection comes greater healing powers and, of course, fame. The Yaquis, as well as other native tribes, mestizos, and even Americans, make pilgrimages to the Urrea hacienda. The Catholic Church views this 'saint' as a heretic, the vicious and corrupt government of Porfirio Díaz considers the girl a threat, and revolutionaries want to insinuate themselves into her sphere of influence for their own political cause. The climax brilliantly mirrors the immigrant's experience of seeking safe passage to a foreign land while relying on loved ones as well as fate. Urrea, who is the award-winning author of ten books-fiction, non-fiction and poetry-tells us in an author's note that Teresa Urrea 'was a real person'-his aunt. The Hummingbird's Daughter is his fictionalization of family lore based on twenty years of intense research and interviews. The result resonates with such passion and beauty that it doesn't matter whether Teresita's legend is based more on a people's wishful thinking than truth. The Hummingbird's Daughter is a sumptuous, dazzling novel to which no review can do justice; one simply must read it. [The full review first appeared in The Elegant Variation.]

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

    okay - so far

    I am only 1/3 of the way through and I am not inspired to keep reading. I go back to the book when I have nothing else to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Amazing!!

    What a great story, beautifully written.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    Spirit

    Niko?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2013

    Cafe #1

    To eat at for causal lunches

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2013

    The Hummingbird's Daughter

    Hey Suvarov-- This space is for a review of the book, not a freakin thesis.... self important much?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    Recommend

    A very interesting story, especially since it is about real people!
    I got a little bogged down in the beginning, but the slow start is necessary for the development of the story.

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  • Posted March 5, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Took me back to those times, I could almost taste the dust of the journey, the differences between Mexico and the US so market even then great read

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  • Posted August 9, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The Hummingbird's Daughter covers the life of one family, that o

    The Hummingbird's Daughter covers the life of one family, that of Tomás Urrea. While Tomás surely fathers many illegitimate children, Teresita becomes the most famous, being called Saint Teresita, the Saint of Cabora. Hummingbird tells the story of how Teresita is born, comes to be recognized by her father, learns at the side of the curandera Huila and turns into the Saint of Cabora.

    I've seen reviews that compare Hummingbird to Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. I understand the sentiment, but there are so many major differences that I believe Urrea's novel is a completely different animal. First, Hummingbird covers only one generation while One Hundred Years covers five. Hummingbird is a traditional novel with the traditional punctuation, especially for dialogue. Finally, while Hummingbird is told from different viewpoints, the story is linear; One Hundred Years is not always linear. This obviously just scratches the surface because One Hundred Years could be discussed at quite some length. Suffice it to say, while I may have had some One Hundred Years expectations when I began Hummingbird, they were quickly dispelled, which is not a bad thing.

    The writing is beautiful. There are many sections I marked and later typed at the bottom of my personal review so I could refer to them later. The funniest quotes and stories come from Huila, who, in my opinion, is the best character in the book by far-

    "She felt in her apron pockets for her medicine pouch. Everybody knew it was made of leather- man leather, they said, gathered from a rapist's ball sack. The rumor was that she had collected it herself back in her village of El J¿pare. When one of the pendejos working around her or her girls started to give her grief, she'd pull the awful little warty-looking blackened bag out of her apron pocket and toss it and catch it, toss and catch it, until the man quieted down and started watching. Then she'd say, "Did you have something you wanted to say to me?""

    In addition, Urrea has the ability to make you care about characters you have only known for a short while. When Teresita recognizes a severed head bobbing in a bottle of liquid, my heart sank; I am not even sure why. It is one of those moments that stays with you; you may think of it days or weeks later and not know why it continues to haunt you.

    The vocabulary is sometimes difficult. I read a lot and one of the side effects is that I have a large vocabulary. In spite of that, I had to look words up frequently because they referred to things that are cultural or time specific. Usually, the reader is able to figure out the meaning with the help of context, but there were many instances that context did not help at all, and I am Mexican. There is also a little Spanish and it is not always translated, but even if you don't look it up, you get the gist of what is being said.

    While the book is about a supposed saint and the miracles she is said to have performed, the book is not all pretty flowers. Tomás is far from faithful to his wife; in fact, everybody knows about it, including his wife, who basically turns her head unless directly confronted. It is a brutal time period and setting and things are not always settled in a peaceful manner. Children are mistreated. And the list goes on. Hummingbird does not dwell on these subjects, but they are present.

    I am sure some may avoid the book because the topic of sainthood may imply long sermons. I assure you, they are not there. In fact, the discussions about religion are intelligent and interesting. Tomás is debatably an atheist; he and Teresita love to debate and have discussions-

    "Yes, yes," he said. "I know who the Holy Mother is."
    "But, of course, you don't believe."
    He spread his palms at her.
    "Read history, my dear. That hill where she appeared, Tepeyac. Aztecs had been 'seeing' their own goddess there for years. Tonántzin, wasn't it? A virgin? The priests just laid one fairy tale over another, and they used the same spot for the same kind of fairy."
    She squinted at him.
    "The world of reason must be a lonely place," she said.
    "Father," she said, leaning forward, "do you not think the Mother of God is older than the Aztecs? Do you not think that, if she were to appear right here, right now, the People would think her a Yaqui or a mestiza? That the Aztecs could only understand her as an Aztec figure? How would they know anything other than Aztec religion?"
    "Touché," he said.

    This was a good book. I laughed and cried. I purchased my own hardback copy. That in itself should tell you all you need to know about what I think of The Hummingbird's Daughter.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    Highly recommended.

    I found this book absolutely delightful. I'm not surprised that Urrea is also a poet. His writing is so lyrical and imaginative. My only complaint with the book was the ending. We only find out what happened to Teresita and Tomas, but we don't how the other major characters fared.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2011

    Surprisingly Good

    This book left me laughing and crying. It was a great story written by a talented author. I could not put it down.

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  • Posted April 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    recommend

    This is based on a real girl who was sainted because she could heal with her hands. She was in El Paso for a time then lived in Arizona. All this after she escaped from the Ruales in Mexico. The writing style is excellent.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    Fascinating story based on a real person

    My sister recommended this book to me. I agree with her that it was very interesting! I loved the storyline and the saga of the heroine. The writing at times was hard to follow, probably because I do not have a very good grasp of the Spanish language and that was very integral to the book. I loved that it was based in fact, and overall thought it was very fascinating. The end seemed a little anti-climactic but this was definitely a good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2007

    A reviewer

    Although said to be based on a true story, the first half is long and extremely descriptive, Teresita's miracles are repetitive trying to bring an emotional mode to the story. Don Tomas Character saves the day, the scenes where his character appears are the best ones, full of Mexican sense of humor (I only kept reading because of him) Huila's character is preaching and boring. The end is very weak, lacks of... everything.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2006

    a new favorite for my collection

    Bought this book only because the title intrigued me, but found it hard to put down once I started. Funny, informative, sad, magical -- a real story on every level. I particularly liked the character of Don Tomas. He made me laugh out loud several times. My next book will be something else by this author. I really loved his writing and storytelling style.

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