Luis Alberto Urrea on His Fun, Moving New Novel: ‘The Border Is Just This Endless Metaphor for What Separates Us'

Luis Alberto Urrea's buoyant 17th book, The House of Broken Angels, is a funny, moving portrait of a multifarious Mexican-American family. The de La Cruz family includes a U.S. Army veteran with a Purple Heart, but without U.S. citizenship, and the frontman of metal band Satanic Hispanic, who sings in what Urrea calls a "Norwegian Cookie Monster demon voice."The novel cycles around the events of one weekend in San Diego, when the de La Cruz family gathers for the funeral of grandmother América and the 70th birthday party for Big Angel, her eldest son and family patriarch, who is dying of cancer. Big Angel's youngest half-brother, Little Angel, like Urrea, has a Mexican father and an American mother. Little Angel endeavors to chart his place in the universe of this family during two raucous and eventful days. Urrea is a master of many genres, including fiction, poetry and nonfiction. His 2004 account of a group of Mexican migrants' fatal border crossing attempt, The Devil's Highway, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2017 he received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. Urrea, who will appear in Dallas on April 8 as part of the Dallas Museum of Art's Arts & Letters live, spoke by phone from his home in Naperville, Ill., about the literary and personal influences on his new novel. When writing The House of Broken Angels, were you inspired by other novels grounded in family gatherings? Sure, I can go all the way back to Kerouac's The Town and the City for the immigrant family tumult. When I was a kid reading The Godfather, the effect was, "Those Italians seem just like us!" Aside from the machine guns. For a while, I jokingly called this the Mexican Finnegan's Wake. And, absolutely, there are echoes of that scene from Tom Sawyer, where Tom, hiding up in the rafters, gets to attend his own funeral.  Continue reading...

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