The Flower in the Skull

The Flower in the Skull

by Kathleen Alcala
     
 

Deep in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico in the 1870s, a village of Opata Indians is attacked by soldiers. Along with the rest of her tribe, Concha is driven from her homeland and eventually finds her way to Tucson, where she finds a job cleaning houses and caring for children. When her own daughter, Rosa, is born, the legacy of Concha's dislocation continues, as Rosa

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Overview

Deep in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico in the 1870s, a village of Opata Indians is attacked by soldiers. Along with the rest of her tribe, Concha is driven from her homeland and eventually finds her way to Tucson, where she finds a job cleaning houses and caring for children. When her own daughter, Rosa, is born, the legacy of Concha's dislocation continues, as Rosa is raised far from her native culture and struggles to find her place in a strange world. As she did in her acclaimed, award-winning novel, Spirits of the Ordinary, Kathleen Alcalá takes on the complexities of cultural heritage, identity, and assimilation, and explores the mysterious nature of place, spiritualism, and faith in the lives of these extraordinary ordinary people.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Starting where her Spirits of the Ordinary ended, near the time of the Mexican Revolution, the disappointing second volume of Alcal's projected trilogy chronicles three generations of women descended from the Opata, a vanished Indian tribe from the Sonoran desert of Mexico. Separated from her family when Apaches and Mexican soldiers drive the Opata from their villages, young Shark Tooth begins a new life as a maid in Tucson, where she is renamed Concha. The Opata's strong sense of history lives on in Concha; her daughter, Rosa; and her granddaughter, Shelly, a present-day Angelea whose search for her roots mirrors Concha's homesickness for the village she knew as a child. Like the family in Alcal's previous work, this one travels farphysically, spiritually and emotionallyin order to survive. But while the same themes of Latin American identity appear here, they too often seem reported rather than lived. (June)
Library Journal
Alcal, author of a collection of short stories and the prize-winning novel Spirits of the Ordinary (LJ 12/96), explores cultural identity, isolation, loss, and sexual abuse in her second novel. The work is divided into three sections, each with a separate narrator. The first segment is narrated by Sharks Tooth, an Opata Indian girl born in Mexico toward the end of the 19th century at a time of tribal disintegration. After becoming forcibly separated from her family, Sharks Tooth makes her way alone to Tucson. The second narrator, Rose, the daughter of Sharks Tooth, tells her own version of her mother's story, as well as her own. The final section is told by Shelly, Sharks Tooth's great-great-granddaughter. Shelly lives alone in New York City, where her sense of emotional isolation and cultural alienation mirror Sharks Tooth's own experiences. Alcal perhaps attempts to cover too much in this brief novel. Despite the first-person narratives, the characters are types rather than individuals, and the themes of cultural identity and isolation are muddied by the threads of sexual violence, control, and intimidation. A thoughtful work nonetheless; recommended for public and academic libraries.Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA
Book World Washington Post
"Swirling together themes of love, family, and spirituality, Alcala ecoes the style of Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel... She offers a poignatn tale wrapped up in magic."
San Diego Union Tribune
"Kathleen Alcala evokes a unique and mysterious world, so colorful and rich... It is a tribute to her inventiveness as a storyteller that she is able to raise a number of provocative questions that the curious reader will ponder long afterward."
Sunday Oregonian
"...the work of a talented writer with a fresh voice, vision, and a stunning style."
New York Times Book Review
"It is testimony to Ms. Alcala's vivid talents as a storyteller ... that we come to care about many of her characters, and to wonder what destines await them in her next book."
Kirkus Reviews
Alcal 's overly ambitious latest, the second part of a planned trilogy that began with Spirits of the Ordinary (1997), spans more than a century in offering a view of three women linked by Indian blood and their dreams, and seared by the violent transgressions of men. Childhood comforts in her Opata village in Sonoran Mexico cease for Concha when her father is seized by Mexican soldiers and never seen again. First abandoning home with her family, then herself abandoned by her mother, Concha walks in a daze across the desert to Tucson, where she's taken in as a nanny by a prospering Mexican family. A measure of peace returns to her. But when she's raped by an Anglo and has his child, nothing can ever be the same. A brief marriage fails to produce more children, so her husband dallies with someone else, leaving Concha and daughter Rosa to fend for themselves. Over the years, Rosa picks up the burden when her mother grows too weak to continue the dawn-to-dusk housecleaning work that has sustained them, but then Rosa catches the eye of a young minister and receives Concha's blessing to marry him just before Concha dies. Busy starting her own family and keeping her own house, Rosa still wonders about her mother's past—and the father she never knew. Two generations forward, Shelly, an editorial assistant for an L.A. publisher, jumps at the chance to escape her stalking, harassing boss by going on a research trip to Tucson, where she finds not only a mystery involving her mother's family and her people in a broader sense, but also the will to survive the horror waiting for her when she returns to Los Angeles. A thin stretch of a story, with scattered lyric beauty. This might fill a gapbetween more substantial efforts, but can't hold interest on its own.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780811819169
Publisher:
Chronicle Books LLC
Publication date:
11/01/1998
Pages:
220
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.83(d)

What People are saying about this

Larry McMurtry
"Kalthleen Alcala is a writer with beautiful gifts. She has given us a strong and finely rendered book in which passions both ordinary and extraordinary are made vivid and convincing."
Alberto Rios
"This book entered my dreams. The novel unerringly details a range of human dimension not easily forgotten. I am ready for more."

Meet the Author

Kathleen Alcal was born in California and now lives in Seattle. She is the author of a highly praised collection of stories, Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist .

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