NOBODY'S SON by Luis Alberto Urrea


Notes From an American Life
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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,— according to Urrea, —it 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 drive and depth, Urrea’s book is not quite a memoir, but the fragmented notes that compose these essays are often moving nonetheless.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8165-1865-3
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998

Kirkus Interview
Luis Alberto Urrea
April 21, 2015

Examining the borders between one nation and another, between one person and another, Luis Alberto Urrea’s latest story collection, The Water Museum, reveals his mastery of the short form. This collection includes the Edgar-award winning "Amapola" and his now-classic "Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses," which had the honor of being chosen for NPR's "Selected Shorts" not once but twice. Urrea has also recently published a poetry collection, Tijuana Book of the Dead, mixing lyricism and colloquial voices, mysticism and the daily grind. We talk to Urrea about both of his new books this week on Kirkus TV. View video >


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