Loteria

Loteria

4.2 7
by Mario Alberto Zambrano
     
 

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In Lotería, the spellbinding literary debut by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a young girl tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Latin American game of chance.
 
With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the

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Overview

In Lotería, the spellbinding literary debut by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a young girl tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Latin American game of chance.
 
With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, she retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of lotería cards. Each of the cards’ colorful images—mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars—sparks a random memory.
 
Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

Beautiful full-color images of lotería cards are featured throughout this intricate and haunting novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Lotería, a kind of Mexican bingo played with 54 pictures instead of numbers, is used by 11-year-old Luz Castillo to frame the journal she is writing. Refusing to speak to the authorities who have her in custody, the rather mature Luz confides her feelings and life story, ostensibly to God, as she associates each lotería image with a thought or event. The drum, for example, morphs into a beating she suffered from her abusive, alcoholic father, who slammed her hand into the wall and permanently deformed her arm. Gradually we learn why Luz is in custody and also about the accidental shooting and subsequent death of her sister, the disappearance of her mother, and her eventual healing. VERDICT Despite some forced connections, first novelist Zambrano's modified epistolary narration works well. Ultimately, though, the dysfunctional nature of Luz's family leaves a bad taste in the reader's mouth; these are not people whom one wants to know. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/13.]—Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH
Publishers Weekly
Lotería is the card-based Mexican variant of bingo and, in the hands of Zambrano, it’s a deck stacked with narrative possibilities. Following her mother’s disappearance and the arrest of her father, 11-year-old Luz María Castillo dwells in the netherworld between state custody and return to Mexico, which her family left before she was born. But Luz is no stranger to in-between states, and, rendered mute by trauma, she addresses her history to God using the Lotería cards that are her sole possession. What follows are 53 chapters, each corresponding to a pictograph—beginning with “La Araña” (the spider) and ending with “La Rana” (the frog). The accompanying sketches assemble Luz’s fractious family life in equally jagged fragments, some tender as “La Dama” (the lady), others deadly as “El Alacán” (the scorpion). The two central figures in Luz’s recollections are her Papí, a tortured alcoholic who terrorizes his family, and her older sister Estrella, who pays a steep price for defying her father. And yet Luz’s strongest memories are of the Mexican border town where she vacations, mariachi music, fireworks, and the roses in her yard. From these, Zambrano coaxes a language that straddles pictures and words, Spanish and English. An intriguing debut and an elegiac, miniature entry in the literature of Latin American diaspora that will break your heart. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Company. (July)
Charles Baxter
“LOTERIA… is constructed as a beautiful, gripping, and lyrical set of riddles (asked and solved) about life—and—death matters in one family. Like the novels of Cortazar, its form is intricate and beautiful. ”
Lynne Tillman
“Mario Alberto Zambrano’s Loteria is a tender, beautifully written story. In every line, Zambrano finds the happy and sad music of childhood. It is an entrancing work.”
Andrew Sean Greer
Loteria, charms on every page, despite heartache, love and loss. . . . The beauty and joy of her voice overcomes the hardships of her life, and by the end we have fallen in love. Bravo to a marvelous debut!”
Justin Torres
“LOTERIA is a taut, fraught, look at tragedy, its aftermath, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive. With suspense, dread, and always the possibility for redemption, we watch as Zambrano flips the cards of chance and fate.”
Josh Weil
“In a bold, deeply-felt debut Mario Alberto Zambrano brings us tragedy made powerful … These are people who hold on to each other so hard it hurts. And this moving novel will hug you too, every bit as tight.”
Amber Dermont
“Mario Alberto Zambrano performs a lyrical and formal sleight of hand conjuring a spiritually profound and deeply moving story. Loteria is about everything that matters. . . . This gorgeous, one-of-a-kind debut, marks the emergence of a singular and powerful new literary voice.”
Ru Freeman
“If a book can be a spirit, this one is lithe, beautiful, and true. Mario Alberto Zambrano brings the heart of an artist immersed in movement and music to his prose and the result is dazzling.”
Houston Chronicle
“[Zambrano’s] debut novel…is a polished tome of prose unreeling the tale of plucky little Luz Maria Castillo in the game of chance called life.… We peer like voyeurs, artfully led by Zambrano’s pacing, dialogue and comically drawn characters.”
Daily Candy
Loteria is… like stumbling onto the gut-wrenching journal of a preteen girl. It’s imaginative, mysterious, and sometimes too real.”
Booklist(starred review)
“Zambrano’s stellar debut is proof positive that good things come in small packages.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Zambrano effectively uses his string of short-story-like entries to make Luz a many-faceted diamond, hardened by life but still filled with light and beauty.”
National Post (Canada)
“His restraint from sentimentality, his mastery of well-made sentences and his rich imagination lift words off the page—like dancers in a ballet.”
Village Voice
“An incredible first novel.”
El Paso Times
“This is a gripping, heartbreaking novel by a new writer who already understands the power of understatement and controlled revelation.”
New York
“Coming of Age through bingo—the weirder, magical Mexican version.”
Dallas Morning News
“It’s a polished tome of prose unreeling the tale of plucky little Luz Maria Castillo in the game of chance called life… Loteria should delight and disturb any reader sensitive to the ways of children and how they think and, more importantly, how deeply they feel.”
“Summer Reads” Vogue
Loteria…captures, from a wide-eyed yet uncloying child’s perspective, the way in which life can feel a lot like a game of chance.”
Los Angeles Times
“In this debut novel, a Mexican-American girl uses the game of Loteria to reveal her memories, which add up to a heartwenching tale of violence, love and a broken family.”
Shelf Awareness
“This is a smart and powerful tale, beautifully rendered by a sensitive artist.”
Brooklyn Rail
“…Loteria reaches a rare plane where it transcends its form and comes alive as a commentary on character, family and culture.”
Kevin Brockmeier
“Take the architecture of Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies and marry it to the wide-open childhood receptivity of McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding, and you might achieve something like the effect of LOTERIA.”
Kirkus Reviews
A young Mexican-American girl recounts the heartbreaking dissolution of her entire family. This debut novel from former professional ballet dancer Zambrano, written from the point of view of a tween girl who has inadvertently become a ward of the state, smacks a bit of experimental fiction, largely due to its deliberate construction. It is a journal written by 11-year-old Luz Castillo, who refuses to speak to others. Instead, she shuffles and reshuffles a deck of Lotería cards, a Latin American game of chance featuring 54 macabre representations of various objects or animals. With each flip of the card, Luz reveals some little memory, painstakingly rendered, about her family. It's a slowly told tale delivered in short, ambiguous chapters. "I'm not a piece of news in the Chronicle she can just pick up and read," Luz complains. "It's not like that, not black and white. If anything it's like a telenovela with a ranchera in the background playing so loud you can't even hear your thoughts anymore." Over time, Luz reveals the story of her deeply dysfunctional family--the mother that abandons her children and her Papi who drinks heavily and flies into such a rage over a sexual indiscretion that he breaks Luz's arm. And then there is Estrella, Luz's motherly older sister who lies at death's door in the ICU of a local hospital, her fate even more uncertain than her little sister's. The broken tale and imaginative first-person narration lend weight to this curious novel. It's an impressive first step for an artist exploring a new medium. A contemplative yet discordant collection of stories about where life's scars originate.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062268563
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/02/2013
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
266,341
File size:
6 MB

Read an Excerpt

Rules of the Game

Lotería is often described as Mexican bingo, a game of chance. The only material difference between bingo and Lotería is that bingo relies on a grid of numbers while Lotería relies on images.

There are fifty-four cards and each comes with a riddle, un dicho. There is a traditional set of riddles, but sometimes dealers create their own to trick the players. After the dealer "sings" the riddle, the players cover the appropriate spots on their playing boards, their tablas, with either bottle caps, dried beans, or loose change.

There is more than one way to win depending on what is played. You can win by filling a vertical line, a horizontal line, a diagonal; the four corners, the center squares, or a blackout.

An important rule to remember is that a winner must shout his victory as soon as his winning image is called. If the dealer calls another riddle before the winner declares ¡Lotería! , the player can no longer claim his prize.

LA ARAÑA

This room has spiders.

¿Y? It's not like You don't see them. The way they move their legs and carry their backs and creep in the dark when you're not looking. You see us, ¿verdad? You see what we see? It's not like You don't know what we're thinking when we lie down at night and look up at the ceilling, or when we crawl in our heads the way these spiders crawl over furniture. It's never made sense why people think You're only there at church and nowhere else. Not at home or in the yard or the police station. Or under a bed.

When I first walked in there was a wooden desk and a chair that wobbled when I sat in it, next to a thin bed with a green blanket. Tencha said the room needed something so she started buying me roses from the flower shop in Magnolia Park and putting them on the windowsill. From one day to the next I watch the petals fall to the floor and that's when I notice the spiders. They crawl to the cracks in the wall when she comes to visit then crawl out again when she leaves. I'm at my desk doing what she told me to do, because she said I should write as much as I can, even if it's one word, one sentence. Let the cards help you, mama. Échale ganas.

My name is Luz. Luz María Castillo. And I'm eleven years old. You've known me since before I was born, I'm sure, but I want to start from the beginning. Because who else should I speak to but You?

It's been five days since I've been here and I don't have anything but a week's worth of clothes and a deck of Lotería. The best thing to do now is to be patient and cooperative, they say, otherwise I'll be sent to Casa de Esperanza. Tencha can't have custody, not unless we move back to Mexico, and they say that whenever I'm ready to talk it'll make things easier. But Tencha told them she filed her papers and has been working here for eight years, so why don't they let me go? Why can't she take me? I'm waiting for the day she walks in and tells me to pack my bags because we're going home, wherever that is.

Julia's a counselor here and looks like she could be in college, skinny and black, but gringa-looking by the things she wears. She tries to talk to me at lunch as she flips her hair to one side like a feathered wing. She brings me issues of Fama magazine and points to the photos and asks, "Like her music? She's pretty, huh?"

Then she looks at me like if I'm one of those stories you hear about on the ten o'clock news. Like one of those women who leave their kids in the car with the windows rolled up while they go grocery shopping. Or a story about some punk kid who molests a girl after school. Or some father who finds out his son's gay and rams a broomstick up his butt until it bleeds. And whoever reports the story on the news channel has this concerned look over her face standing outside the hospital room where the son's recovering. She looks into the camera and repeats what the father said to his son as he stood over him with the broomstick in his hand: "You sure you want to be gay, son?"

I'm Papi's daughter, but still. That story is a true story and that boy was my age and when I saw him on television, I felt bad for him. I wanted to spit in that newscaster's face, the way she pretended like she cared. To her it was just another story, but to that boy, he must've been sore, must've been hurting real bad and wondering what it was going to be like once he got home.

There's a guy named Ricardo staying in one of the rooms on the opposite side of the building. He has dreadlocks that fall to his knees but he twists them the way you wring a mop and plops them on his head. One night we were watching The Price Is Right in the common room and he told me he liked to do something called blow. His foster parents found him cutting lines on the kitchen counter and that's why they turned him in. That's why he's getting counseling. He said Casa de Esperanza is where they take kids when nobody wants them. After Tencha saw him she told me to stay away from him.

When I'm sitting by myself by the window doodling on paper, Julia comes up to me and tries to act like she's my best friend. "What are you drawing?" she asks. "I can help you. Why don't you let me help you?" Then she sits there, staring at me.

¿Y? It's not like I'm a piece of news in the Chronicle she can pick up and read. It's not like that. If anything, it's a telenovela with a ranchera in the background playing so loud you can't even hear your thoughts anymore. Like that movie Nosotros los pobres, when Pedro Infante is accused of killing his wife. He didn't do it and only his daughter Chachita believes him. Half the movie is not knowing what happened, whether he killed her or not. Everyone thinks he's guilty, but he's not. He's just poor. Chachita visits him in jail and pleads to the officers to let him go. She has braids in pigtails and throws her arms over her head like Hallelujah! She falls to the floor, crying with tears over her cheeks, all slobbery, all dramatic, like one of those old ladies at church who's lost her husband, praying, ¿Por qué me haces esto, Señor? ¡Por favor, Dios mio!

Tencha says I should tell Julia whatever she wants to know. If I don't want to talk then I should write it down because we have to get Papi out of jail. That way we can go home and be together again. The only way he can get out of jail is if I open up, she says.

"Why don't you use the cards to help you, mama? Ándale. Write it down in a journal, like that they can see what happened. Like that they can see he didn't do anything wrong."

At first, I didn't want to. I didn't feel like it. Besides, Tencha wouldn't believe me. Or maybe she would. Maybe she knows what it was like but never wanted to believe it in the first place because she loves her brother too much. Either way, I'm keeping this as mine.

What I write is for You and me and no one else.

There's this spider at the edge of my desk and she's looking at me like if I'm her Virgen de Guadalupe. I don't want her touching me or getting too close, and I know she's not poisonous, but still. I could blow her off in one breath if I wanted to. I'm thinking of smashing her, then cleaning her off with my sock and acting like it never happened. But when I raise my hand and close my eyes I hear her scream.

Julia says the reason I don't say anything is because I'm in deep pain. Like if pain were something she knew looked like me. I hear her when she talks to Tencha outside my room. Because I'm eleven she treats me like some kid. The way she looks at me, feeling sorry for me, scared, but at the same time frustrated. Like if answers are overdue and behind her pity she's upset that I'm not "cooperating."

I used to tell You I pray for Your will. ¿Recuerdas? I used to make the sign of the cross in the dark while I was in bed and tell you how much I loved You. That I wish for the best and I pray for your will. Well, I do, but maybe I'll smash this spider. Mom used to say that life was full of tests. And if we pass, we'll be in Your grace. Maybe if she named me Milagro instead of Luz this would've never happened.

If I wait for this spider to crawl out of this room, then maybe I can go after her. And on the other side of this wall there'll be this underwater world and I'll swim to the deep end and float next to one of those electrical fish that light up in the dark. And maybe he'll sting me or split me into pieces or eat me alive. But then everything will be over and no one will remember because I'll be down there in the dark with nothing around me. With no fish, no light. No Luz.

Then what?

LA CHALUPA

There's a flea market on Alexander Street that we used to go to when I was little. It's where we went to buy things like comales and molcajetes. They sold sheets and sheets of Lotería paper and I didn't know it came rolled up like that. I didn't know you could make your own tabla.

There was a round woman who sat in a canoe with flowerpots around her like if they were her children. Red flowers, pink, yellow, and purple. She wore a nightgown with thin stripes and had braids falling down her chest. Her name was Alondra. Estrella called her una pendeja because she was a grown woman dressed up like a Lotería card. But she wasn't dumb. She made bracelets with all these different colors and would stitch your name on one if you asked. Two dollars apiece. She'd sit under the sun, even when it was ninety-five degrees outside, and braid her bracelets. We'd pass her on the way to the food stands, buy some barbacoa and tamarindo, then pass her again, and she'd be in the same place.

"Want something, Alondra? ¿Un Jarrito? ¿Algo? Ánadale," Papi would say.

She'd close her eyes and tighten them, shake her head like if she were remembering someone who'd died. When she'd open her eyes we'd notice she wasn't crying. "No, no gracias," she'd say. "No necesito nada." She'd open her arms and sweat would be glistening over her forehead.

I asked her to write a word on each bracelet I bought because I wanted them to read like a sentence. Ven. Que. Te. Quiero. Ahora. It's the riddle to La Rosa, which is a strange dicho. I don't know how a rose has anything to do with wanting or loving. But every time I thought of it I heard Mom's voice and the way she'd say it in Spanish, all smooth and sexy like Sara Montiel: Come, I want you now.

And because quiero can mean either want or love, I asked if it meant "I want you" or "I love you." Come here, because I love you, or, come here, because I want you? If you were saying to someone, come to me, then the person you loved wasn't there, and if you had to tell someone to come to you then maybe he didn't love you. And to want someone to come to you is like an order. If you have to order someone to come to you, how much love is in that anyway?

After Alondra made my last bracelet, I put it on my arm and she read them out loud from my wrist to my elbow. Ven. Que. Te. Quiero. Ahora. She opened her arms and hugged me the way Tencha does, with her body soft like pillows, and I understood why even though she was smiling sometimes she looked like she was in pain. She was confused of whether or not she was wanting or loving. Or both.

EL CANTARITO

When Estrella ran away I thought she was going to Angélica's house because she wanted to scare Papi into thinking she was leaving for good. We thought she was being dramatic and wanting attention. I never thought she'd go to the cops. I never thought they'd come to the house the way they did.

Julia asks the same thing over and over when she sits down next to me in the activity room. She wants to know what it was like living at home. "And on weekends?" she asks. "What did you do all together? What did you do with your Papi?" But she wouldn't get it. She wouldn't know what it was like.

We all fought. We all hit each other.

Papi punched because he was a man, but we hit him too. There was one time when Mom grabbed the Don Pedro bottle from the coffee table and smashed it over his head. Blood ran down his face like the statue of Jesus Christ and Estrella and I had to grab toilet paper to soak up the blood.

Now, here comes Julia thinking Fama magazine is going to open me up like some stupid jack-in-the-box. Like if I'm some extension cord tangled up in a garage she can take a few minutes to untangle. Then what? She'll leave me alone? Or maybe Papi will stay in jail because of something I say, something she writes down and tangles up later.

It's like in Lotería, instead of playing the four corners we play the center squares. But midway through the game you find you have the corners but you're missing the center. And if you would've played the corners you would've won already. But that's how it is, isn't it?

I keep my mouth shut because I don't know the rules of the game.

Three days ago Tencha came to visit me and sat in the chair next to the door. I'd been laying out the cards on my desk. La Rana. El Paraguas. El Melón. Thinking about the stories the cards helped me remember. Usually she sits with me on the bed and rocks me back and forth and tells me everything's going to be okay. But this time she sat in the chair, all hunched over with her feet together, and whispered, "Mama." Then nothing. Like if she couldn't get the rest of the sentence out. I knew what she was trying to tell me, that her rosaries for the last week were for nothing. Her prayers to la Virgen were for nothing. And if I waited for her to tell me it would've taken too long. So I walked over to her and put my hand on her shoulder, and she started sobbing in that way that's scary, like if her lungs are falling out and she has to suck them back in before they fall to the floor.

Estrella was in the ICU ever since that night they came to get Papi. I was looking out the window next to my desk when Tencha asked if I wanted to see her. She whispered, like if I'd get mad at her for mentioning her name. But she knew it wasn't going to be the way I imagined. I wouldn't sit at the end of Estrella's bed and hold her hand. And I wouldn't be able to go inside the room she was in. When Tencha said her name I put on my sneakers and stood up, keeping my head down so I wouldn't have to see her eyes.

She had to get permission, she said. Larry, the social services director, didn't think it was a good idea. He lowered his voice as he talked to her in the hall, but I could hear him. He said I was too fragile, it might make me worse. But she told him good, said if I didn't get to see my sister I'd sue him when I turned eighteen. My own flesh and blood. They should be ashamed of themselves. "Shame on you!" she said. And then he agreed, but only for one night. She told him everything would be fine. She was responsible and this was a family matter.

Before we walked out of the building he told us an officer would take us to the hospital and sign us in. We drove to the Medical Center near the zoo off of highway 59, to a huge building that looked like a good place, not some clinic with bums crowding the emergency room. It looked like a place that could fix things. It had forty-four floors and there were doctors with clipboards walking up and down the hallway. When we asked the receptionist for Estrella María Castillo the woman told us she was on the thirty-eighth floor. I remember because I pushed the button in the elevator but it wouldn't light up, and when the doors opened the hallway was quiet. It seemed like no one was there. But finally a nurse passed. She said I couldn't go inside the room where Estrella was. All I could do was see her from behind a pane of glass. But all I could see was her chin and the shape of her body past two other beds. I couldn't see her eyes. There was a curtain blocking half of her face. For all I knew it could've been someone else.

When the nurse looked at me she did that tilt of the head like people do, like if I were abandoned. Other nurses started to show up and they looked at me in the same way. Maybe they thought I'd attack them or knock them over or run inside the room no matter what I was told, because they'd heard what had happened. But I didn't. I stood there and looked at my sister while Tencha walked with them down the hall and asked them questions.

The machines that were next to her beeped louder the longer I stayed, and no matter how much I tried to block them out, I couldn't. I pressed my palms against the glass and told her how much I love her. How sorry I was. My sister. Just there, sleeping. Not moving. She got blurry from the fog of my breath covering the glass, and I whispered, ¿Y por qué tenías que ser tan tonta? I wrote her name in my mind and imagined the star as I drew it over the glass.

Mom used to say to us, Estrella y Luz, cuánto las quiero.

I pressed my hands harder against the glass and told her it was going to be okay, not because You were going to make it okay but because I was there and You were there and I was really trying to tell You something. Like how much I love You. And if I loved You, wouldn't that make things better? It didn't matter if I fell on my knees or threw up my hands and prayed I don't know how many Hail Marys. Lo siento, Madre María. But it was a matter of Your will. Learn to live with what you lose and that's what's meant to be. ¿Verdad? Mom used to say, "Forgive and forget." I say it to myself over and over when I'm trying to fall asleep at night but it feels like a lie. It turns into a song and then I don't even know what I'm singing anymore.

Standing there, all of a sudden, I was like a jug of water trying to be taken from one place to another, and little by little, I was spilling. The nurses didn't even look at me anymore.

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