Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life

Overview


Here's a story about a family that comes from Tijuana and settles into the 'hood, hoping for the American Dream.
. . . I'm not saying it's our story. I'm not saying it isn't. It might be yours.
"How do you tell a story that cannot be told?" writes Luis Alberto Urrea in this potent memoir of a childhood divided. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an Anglo mother from Staten Island, Urrea moved to San Diego when he was three. His childhood was a mix of opposites, a clash of ...
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Overview


Here's a story about a family that comes from Tijuana and settles into the 'hood, hoping for the American Dream.
. . . I'm not saying it's our story. I'm not saying it isn't. It might be yours.
"How do you tell a story that cannot be told?" writes Luis Alberto Urrea in this potent memoir of a childhood divided. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an Anglo mother from Staten Island, Urrea moved to San Diego when he was three. His childhood was a mix of opposites, a clash of cultures and languages. In prose that seethes with energy and crackles with dark humor, Urrea tells a story that is both troubling and wildly entertaining. Urrea endured violence and fear in the black and Mexican barrio of his youth. But the true battlefield was inside his home, where his parents waged daily war over their son's ethnicity. "You are not a Mexican!" his mother once screamed at him. "Why can't you be called Louis instead of Luis?" He suffers disease and abuse and he learns brutal lessons about machismo. But there are gentler moments as well: a simple interlude with his father, sitting on the back of a bakery truck; witnessing the ultimate gesture of tenderness between the godparents who taught him the magical power of love. "I am nobody's son. I am everybody's brother," writes Urrea. His story is unique, but it is not unlike thousands of other stories being played out across the United States, stories of other Americans who have waged war—both in the political arena and in their own homes—to claim their own personal and cultural identity. It is a story of what it means to belong to a nation that is sometimes painfully multicultural, where even the language both separates and unites us. Brutally honest and deeply moving, Nobody's Son is a testament to the borders that divide us all.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

American Book Award winner!"Energetic and darkly humorous memoirs about a childhood divided between Mexico and the United States. . . . The essential tone is of self-deprecating humor about the challenge of explaining a dual identity, a task he accomplishes with passion and understanding." —Library Journal"A candid personal statement, simple, warm, and at times outright moving . . . The book has insight, affords a happy offering of lyrical phrases and images, and yet manages to be a smooth and effortless read. Young readers of mixed background, searching for self-definition in environments that define them as 'other,' will likely find comforting company in these pages. But I suspect it will take mature readers to appreciate some historical and political comments, the pervasive but subtle sense of humor that accompanies the reflective hindsight, and above all, the simple beauty of the writing. . . . Highly recommended." —Multicultural Review"Urrea's staccato phrases build up to a vivid, often brutal image." —Publishers Weekly"A bruising, powerful memoir. . . . He cuts through the thicket of language and cultural contradictions, offering up both humorous looks at his life and troubling memories. . . . Urrea's honest personal account will trigger anyone's memories of growing up where culture, ethnic identity and language clash. In today's America, that's nearly everyone." —San Diego Union Tribune"Urrea ia not simply a great writer and a wonderful storyteller; he is completely enamored with words and language." —Booklist"Lyrical and often painfully funny snapshots of a family damaged as much by alcohol and poverty as by the push and pull of cultures in conflict." —Dallas Morning News"Nobody's Son is an engaging reflection of life, conflict and spirit. It shows how Urrea applies lessons learned to his own development in his continued search for self." —Rocky Mountain News"Colorful narratives of family history, boyhood vignettes and social commentary that are at once funny, sad, tough and tender." —Arizona Republic"The cross-cultural conflicts of Urrea's youth are grist for his literary mill, and he writes about them in a compelling, vivid style laced with self-deprecating humor. His love of the English language—his second language—is as obvious as his mastery of it." —Christian Century
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Urrea's elegant, painful memoir completes the poet/novelist's Border Trilogy, following Across the Wire and By the Lake of Sleeping Children. The son of an Anglo-American mother and a Mexican father, Urrea muses on the frustrations and logical fallacies of anti-Mexican racism as he traces the often-forgotten multicultural origins of Anglo-American culture and language. Particularly moving is his account of his mother's horrifying experiences in the Red Cross during WWII. After being seriously wounded and witnessing the horrors of Buchenwald, she took refuge in San Francisco, where she met Urrea's father, the then blonde-haired, blue-eyed top security man to the Mexican president. By the time Urrea was born in 1955, though, the family was barely making ends meet in Tijuana, where they stayed until Urrea was three. In meandering, discursive portraits, Urrea chronicles his growth, from childhood in San Diego to a cross-country trip in writer Edward Abbey's car, during which he reminisces about the betrayal he felt discovering the anti-Mexican-immigrant sentiments of his favorite writer. Over time, Urrea's mother rejects her son's Mexican origins, even after he begins teaching at Harvard, declaring, "You are not a Mexican! Why can't you be called Louis instead of Luis?" Urrea's interests are not only in the personal but include, for example, the etymology of racist slang: Mexicans came to be called "greasers" because they had been the only people with the skills to grease the wheel axles of covered wagons traveling west; "gringos" because of "Green Grow the Lilacs," a favorite of American soldiers during the Mexican-American War. This is not, however, just a book about race. In fact, it's just as much about writing, and at its best Urrea's staccato phrases build up to a vivid, often brutal image. (Sept.)
Library Journal
"Words are the only bread we can really share," is the peaceful conclusion reached by the author of these energetic and darkly humorous memoirs about a childhood divided between Mexico and the United States. The third part of the trilogy begun with Across the Wire (LJ 1/93), this book establishes Urrea's prominence among Chicano writers. Whether he is describing the politics of his bicultural family or the polarities of a place like Tijuana, he deftly dissects the bilingual jokes and clich s of Chicano culture. The pace of the stories--often based on dialog and vivid anecdote--is brisk. The content can be tender (e.g., when dealing with older female faith healers) or brutal (when describing the realities of borderland machismo). The essential tone, however, is of self-deprecating humor about the challenge of explaining a dual identity, a task he accomplishes with passion and understanding. Recommended for Latino literature collections.--Rebecca Martin, Northern Illinois Univ., DeKalb
Kirkus Reviews
In a memoir traversing some of the autobiographical territory covered in his previous books, poet and novelist Urrea (By the Lake of Sleeping Children, 1996; Across the Wire, 1993, etc.) delivers the last installment of his self-styled "border trilogy." Urrea, born in Tijuana, Mexico, to a white mother and a Mexican father, says he's not old enough to write his memoir, but he feels compelled to share his "observations"; this book is an assemblage of notes divided into several essays. Part One, "Nobody's Son," expands upon the author's sense of his Chicano self: He describes himself alternately as a son of the border and as nobody's son. "Home isn't just a place,þ according to Urrea, þit is also a language," and today he feels wraiths, his parents' spirits, hovering over his shoulder as he writes. Too often this writing belies an overreliance on paradox and irony (he says he's now nobody's son yet everyone's brother), but in describing his family's emigration to the US, Urrea's style is epigrammatic, employing quick stops and starts and short, one-sentence paragraphs. Part Two opens with stories of a Tijuana boyhood. Though an essay on Edward Abbey and the "Dead Ed" industry in Tucson seems tacked on for regional effect, Urrea's pieces are otherwise ordered to give a nonlinear treatment of time. The best, titled "Sanctuary," returns to his childhood and introduces us to Mama Chayo and her husband, Abelino, who looked after the young Luis while his parents worked. The book ends flatly with a rambling piece, "Leaving Shelltown," that describes Urrea's driving east through desert and over prairies, the attendant ghosts supposedly traveling with him. Lacking narrative driveand depth, Urrea's book is not quite a memoir, but the fragmented notes that compose these essays are often moving nonetheless.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816522705
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2002
  • Series: Camino del Sol
  • Pages: 188
  • Sales rank: 806,834
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2001

    Very Visual

    A good read, it's a little slow at times, but can be intense. The author uses great words, very descriptive!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2009

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