Luis Alberto Urrea
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.


Urrea, celebrated for his historical sagas (Queen of America, 2011) and nonfiction (The Devil’s Highway, 2004), offers 13 stories that reflect both sides of his Mexican-American heritage while stretching the reader’s understanding of human boundaries.

With spare eloquence, the opening “Mountains Without Number” conjures up a dying town near Idaho Falls, both its stark landscape and aging inhabitants. The language turns lush, Latin and slangy in the next two stories, “The Southside Raza Image Federation Corp of Discovery” and “The National City Reparation Society,” which feature the bookish Mexican-American Junior, who doesn’t fit in with a white college crowd any more than with the immigrant community he grew up among. The theme of young Anglos straddling class and/or cultural borders occurs, too. The adolescent white narrator of “Amapola” falls in love with a beautiful Mexican girl, naïvely oblivious to the source of her family’s wealth. Joey in “Young Man Blues” learns the reward and price of goodness when caught between loyalty to his elderly middle-class employer and his father’s criminal cohorts. While “Carnations” and “The White Girl” are brief snapshots of grief, “The Sous Chefs of Iogua” resonates on multiple levels, exposing the uneasy complexities of Anglo-Mexican relationships in an Iowa farm town. In “Taped to the Sky,” a Cambridge academic suffering over an ex-wife takes a cross-country trip to the far west and has a darkly comic encounter with Oglala Sioux Don Her Many Horses, who shows his depth in the volume’s bittersweet final story, “Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses,” about a white man whose marriage to Don’s sister shows the power and limitations of cross-cultural love. “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush,” about a graffiti artist in a Mexican village, was published as a graphic novel in 2010; its magical realism would make it an outlier here if not for the penultimate “Welcome to the Water Museum,” a dystopian tale of Western life in an arid future when children consider water an anomaly.

Urrea’s command of language is matched only by his empathy for his characters.

Recent Interviews

Katey Sagal

author of GRACE NOTES

April 10, 2017
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Emma Donoghue


April 3, 2017
THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE by Emma Donoghue In Emma Donoghue’s new middle-grade novel, The Lotterys Plus One, Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed "good girl" of her (VERY) large, (EXTREMELY) unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are: four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery. Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And not just any grandfather; the long dormant "Grumps," who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn't been part of any of their lives. Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the newcomer feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly Grumps's clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live: whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets, a multicultural household....He's worse than just tough to get along with—Grumps has got to go! But can Sumac help him find a home where he belongs? “Full of clever names and wordplay, this engaging tale is moving without veering into sentimentality,” our critic writes in a starred review. “For all the Lotterys’ apparent eccentricity, the novel delves into universal themes of family relationships that will resonate with readers from all backgrounds.” View video >