Sunday, February 13, 2011

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

A group of innocents go on a dangerous journey to return their home to the way it was

This novel has an appealing Wizard of Oz/fairy tale flavor. The essence of the story is sweetness. Three girlfriends and a gay guy set across an unknown border on a noble mission. At first the reader is expecting a light hearted romp, but then the friends witness disturbing images of poverty, violence and racism. At the same time, the broad cartoon like comic characters the friends encounter break the tension and assist in sticky plot situations. The Spanglish is hilarious.

The main character is Nayeli, a beautiful girl who works in a taco shop. There are no men in her little village – they have all gone North. She conceives a plan to bring them back – specifically her father. The na├»ve ones set off in celebration, but soon the sights and the dangers of their journal are all too real. The beauty and cruelty of Mexico. They grow frightened, they learn, they get courage and press on.

I’m a sucker for a quest story, though there are some flaws, including insufficient characterization, especially for the two sidekick girls. Also, the main plot impetus – that the village is overrun by bandidos, is so sketchy as to have no emotional resonance. And it’s not needed. Just have Nayeli want to bring back her dad.

In many ways it was Dickensian -- the comic sidekicks who have an energy of their own, and almost take over the novel. The unsparing description of dehumanizing poverty.   Best of all, it made you think.

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