The House of Broken Angels

by Luis Alberto Urrea

Paperback, 2019




Back Bay Books (2019), Edition: Reprint, 336 pages


"In Urrea's exuberant new novel of Mexican-American life, 70-year-old patriarch Big Angel de la Cruz is dying, and he wants to have one last birthday blowout. Unfortunately, his 100-year-old mother, America, dies the week of his party, so funeral and birthday are celebrated one day apart. The entire contentious, riotous de la Cruz clan descends on San Diego for the events. High rollers and college students, prison veternaos and welfare mothers, happy kids and sad old-timers and pinches gringos and all available relatives. Not to mention figurative ghosts of the departed and an unexpected guest with a gun. Taking place over the course of two days, with time out for an extended flashback to Big Angel's journey from La Paz to San Diego in the 1960s, the narrative follows Big Angel and his extended familia as they air old grievances, initiate new romances, and try to put their relationships in perspective. Of the large cast, standouts include Perla, Big Angel's wife, the object of his undimmed affection; Little Angel, his half-Anglo half-brother, who strains to remain aloof; and Lalo, his son, trailing a lifetime of bad decisions. Urrea (The Hummingbird's Daughter) has written a vital, vibrant book about the immigrant experience that is a messy celebration of life's common joys and sorrows"--Publisher's weekly.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
House of Broken Angels was my first book by Luis Alberto Urrea, and it won't be my last. What an easy, confident writing style he has. This one is about the de la Cruz family gathering, with a funeral for the clan mother and a birthday party for the patriarch Big Angel, who may be in his last innings. There is sadness, but there's also a fierce undercurrent of joy. Even those who have made missteps are welcomed back and folded into the family embrace.

“Big Angel could not reconcile himself to this dirty deal they had all been dealt. Death. What a ridiculous practical joke. Every old person gets the punch line that the kids are too blind to see. All the striving, lusting, dreaming, suffering, working, hoping, yearning, mourning, suddenly revealed itself to be an accelerating countdown to nightfall.
....This is the prize: to realize, at the end, that every minute was worth fighting for with every ounce of blood and fire.”

Big Angel overflows with life, imperfect, declining, but still treasuring sensuality with his beloved Perla, and filling notebooks with memories of what he's loved. Most notebook entries are one word, like "family" and "oysters".

“And everyone loved sunsets. The light lost its sanity as it fell over the hills and into the Pacific--it went red and deeper red, orange, and even green. The skies seemed to melt, like lava eating black rock into great bite marks of burning. Sometimes all the town stopped and stared west. Shopkeepers came from their rooms to stand in the street. Families brought out their invalids on pallets and in wheelbarrows to wave their bent wrists at the madness consuming their sky. Swirls of gulls and pelicans like God's own confetti snowed across those sky riots.”

The book invites the reader into an irresistible family party. And what a family! Half-brother Little Angel comes from Seattle, envied by all for his assumed American wealth. Is Little Angel overshadowed, or able to walk in his own light? La Gloriosa, up in years now but still yearned for by all the men; as she explains, her beauty is "aided but not diminished by artifice". Ookie, seemingly mentally slow, but of hidden genius. Perla, who risked all to come to northern Mexico with Big Angel, and was rewarded with an adoring love and a larger than life partner. Son Yndio, a bruising physical specimen with a love for cabaret performing as a woman. And on and on.

Like many family gatherings, some exchanges are hilariously lowbrow, and some are poignantly highbrow.

“There is a minute in the day, a minute for everyone, though most everyone is too distracted to notice its arrival. A minute of gifts coming from the world like birthday presents. A minute given to every day that seems to create a golden bubble available to everyone.”

I loved this novel. Bear with it in the beginning, as you start to sort out who's who. Five stars.
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LibraryThing member msf59
"The entire history of his family, the world itself, the solar system and galaxy, swirled around him now in weird silence, and he felt blood dribbled down inside his body and the clock, the clock, chipped away at his existence."

“That is the prize: to realize, at the end, that every minute was worth fighting for with every ounce of blood and fire.”

Miguel Angel De La Cruz, also known as Big Angel is ailing. He doesn't think he has much time left and when his mother suddenly dies, as she approaches her 100th birthday. This beloved patriarch decides to throw a big birthday bash for himself and for his big, shaggy, but lovable family, in their San Diego neighborhood.
Most of the events here, other than the flashbacks, take place over one long weekend, as the party preparations come together, in quite dramatic and humorous ways. We are introduced to quite a cast of characters, but at the center of the novel are Big Angel and his young brother Little Angel, (based somewhat on the author).
This is a Mexican-American family but I think it is an American story, first and foremost. Urrea proves, once again that he is a master storyteller. Yes, there is humor and pathos here but every so often Urrea floors the reader with a stream of gorgeous, poetic prose. If you are looking for the perfect summer read, look no further.

**This is also wonderful on audio, with Urrea doing a fantastic job narrating.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
When his nearly hundred-year-old mother passes, Big Angel chooses to put off her memorial service to coincide with his birthday. Big Angel knows this will be his last celebration. Although he hasn’t shared the details with his family, Big Angel is dying of cancer.

The family gathers – a wonderful sprawling Mexican-American family. Some are legal immigrants; some are not. There are black sheep, including one who has decided to sell drugs and it is not welcome. A half brother, Little Angel, has a white mother and is a university professor in Seattle. There are old feuds and jealousies and rehashes of past disagreements.

Later editions of the book have a detailed family genealogy included. While many people in the PBS group read thought this was helpful, I enjoyed the confusion of not quite knowing who was who – it reminded me of my own family reunions.

Through it all, Big Angel keeps an unexpected and surprisingly heartfelt gratitude journal.

Touching, sprawling, at times humorous, I really enjoyed this book.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
First of all, this is one audiobook which was magical because of the author's perfect voice. Of course, as author, he knows his intended rhythm and cadence, and Urrea is able to bring such lush emotionality to many of the events and characters. I think Urrea is a great sociological storyteller. Each of his novels masterfully captures an element of life as for Mexican/American familes. He plumbs the depths of human spirit while weaving a beautiful, if poignant, story. Just read any or all of his books!… (more)
LibraryThing member shazjhb
Such great books. Wonderful story. Timely. Immigration such an issue. Sometimes hard to keep track of characters
LibraryThing member Beamis12
A funeral, followed the next day by what is to be the last birthday party of the family's patriarch, Big Angel. Big Ange land little Angel, brothers from the same father but different mothers, Little Angels mother is white. A big, extended clan, this family, was difficult to keep track of who was who and who went with whom, but it didn't matter, the message is what counted. What it means to be American, to try to adapt to a new culture.

Over the course of one day, this large family comes together to celebrate. Secrets will be revealed, connections made, grief, sadness, regrets, love and joy. There is so much humor, almost at times like a who's on first parody. Family means everything, and we find out the good and bad. Emotional wounds are healed, this is one very full day. By no means a fast read, not because of pacing but because so many meaningful things happen that if one doesn't pay attention it can be missed.

I enjoyed this book, enjoyed this family , with all their flaws and missed opportunities. Even though I didn't stress myself by trying to remember who went were, by books end it all came together. Loved the message of family, for good or bad, and reading from a different viewpoint how they view being American, and what they do to adapt. Have read that this is loosely based on the authors family, the role of big Angel based on his brothers life. Well done.

ARC from Netgalley.
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LibraryThing member TaurusReader
Excellent book. Brings San Diego and Mexican families to life! From laughter to tears. One of the best books I have read recently!
LibraryThing member brangwinn
Oh, what a touching story of a Mexican-American famiy. Great characters composed of many parts just as people are. To some one Angel might be a father, to another, a husband, another, a leader in the community. The elder Angel’s much younger half-brother also named Angel is a college professor, a single man, a nephew and a person who might appear to have separated from his heritage. This novel pulls apart all the layers you’ll find in a family.… (more)
LibraryThing member froxgirl
As soon as I finished this novel, I reread it, because in galloping through the first time, I missed way too much. The large and complicated Mexican-American family, with its secrets, surprises, hardships, and delights, needs to be savored on a slow boil. Told from the perspectives of two brothers, Big Angel and Little Angel, every character's character pops from the page in such pungent words, as does the earlier immigrant experience, with frequent and conflict-free passages from Tijuana to San Diego and back. Big Angel is dying of painful bone cancer, and his family is planning a grand 70th birthday bash - but when his mother dies a week before, the family's kind of pleased, since mother America was a hardass (see:parrot smuggling) and now, with the cremation ceremony a day before the party, now no one needs to take extra days off from work. This extravagant, joyous, pain-filled fiesta of a novel will remain imbedded in your consciousness for a long time, so okay, read it twice, once for the story and a second (maybe third) for the extraordinary writing skills.

Quotes: "Pigeons flocked all about the alpine roofline, moving neurotically from palm tress to mortuary to taqueria and back again, frantic that one of them might have found an onion ring that had been overlooked by the others."

"Her small flock of doggies was scuttling around like animated empanadas on meth."

"That ravaged face held two ardent coals - his black eyes shone with mad light, hunger for the world, amusement, and excitement. They raged with delight in everything."

"They thought he was stupid, as parents often do. Well, he was stupid, as children often are."

"There is a minute in the day, a minute for everyone, though most everyone is too distracted to notice its arrival. A minute that seems to create a golden bubble available to everyone."

"Big Angel was aware of the sad steps of the dance. When you died, you died in small doses. And then you suddenly felt better and fooled yourself into believing that a miracle was about to happen. Well, wasn't that all a dirty rotten thing to pull on somebody."

"Men who do good deeds only wish to atone for their sins."

"Big Angel's favorite definition of Mexican was "Out of nothing, food."

" Every man dies with secrets. A life was a long struggle to come to terms with things and keep some things from others."

"There were always more details trailing any good story. Like tin cans on the back bumper of a newlywed's car. Rattles and pings and wonderful small moments spinning in the wake of a great life."
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LibraryThing member browner56
Big Angel de la Cruz is dying. However, he has two things to take care of over the next few days before he goes. First, he must avoid being late to his mother’s funeral. Second, he needs to join his extended family and many friends in celebrating his own 70th birthday party. That is the basic plot of The House of Broken Angels, Luis Alberto Urrea’s deeply affecting meditation on, among other things, the joys and foibles of family life, the challenges of being caught between two cultures, and the impact that one man can have on those around him.

The novel traces Big Angel’s story from his youth in La Paz, Mexico under the domineering presence of his father Don Antonio to his exile from the family that eventually takes him to Tijuana and San Diego, California. Along the way, we meet many of the important people in his life, including his beloved wife Perla, their siblings, their children, and their seemingly countless nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. Big Angel’s journey is often hard and heartbreaking, but one that is filled with considerable joy as well. Urrea’s storytelling is heartfelt and beautiful, at once elegiac and humorous in roughly equal measures, with a fair amount of Spanglish thrown in for authentic measure.

As he reveals at the outset in a letter to the reader, this is a deeply personal account for the author, whose alter ego appears in the character of Little Angel, the younger brother who has spent much of his adult life trying to escape the family’s influence. The two brothers share a decidedly complicated history—they have the same father but different mothers, and both are conflicted about various aspects of their Mexican-American heritage. While much of the narrative development in The House of Broken Angels is devoted to explaining and resolving their relationship, that is not the essence of the novel. Urrea set out to make this a story about “la familia” and he has succeeded admirably in doing just that. These are characters who will stay with me for a while.… (more)
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
It's a lot harder to review a book I loved than one that I found flawed. And so I've put off reviewing The House of Broken Angels for a week now. Luis Alberto Urrea has filled this novel with a loud, boisterous extended family, brought together for a birthday celebration, let the reader see each character's struggles, flaws and dreams and then knit that all together into a novel with a great deal of heart.

Big Angel is dying, but he has one last birthday celebration before he goes. When his mother dies, he even postpones her funeral a week so that people won't have to make two trips. The House of Broken Angels takes place over a single weekend, where relatives are brought together at Big Angel's house in San Diego, from a university professor to an undocumented veteran, and everyone in between. Urrea draws a vivid portrait of a large family and of the complex and flawed man who has fought to protect them. He's both unsparing and compassionate in his portrayal and I was so sorry when the last chapter ended.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
2019 TOB--I had trouble getting into this book. So if an author writes into the story how the youngest brother had to keep a notebook so that he knew how everyone was related, don't you think that maybe a family tree would have been helpful. Also, a lot of people had a nickname and their real name and nickname were both used during the book. Confusing. Then there is the assumption that we all speak Spanish. Sorry I don't and nothing was translated.

Having said all that, at page 300 I got hooked. Rather late in the book for that to happen but it did. And the ending and message it imparted tugged at my heart. So this is worth a read and who knows, one may like the first 300 pages better than I did.
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LibraryThing member KLmesoftly
A family story - less plot driven than revelation driven, forcing the reader to reevaluate characters page after page as backstories reposition characters for you over and over. The atmosphere of this novel is rich and immersive, and I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone with the patience to watch something beautiful slowly unfold.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookfest
A beautifully written saga of a Mexican American family. It is full of family squabbles, troubles and love. There is quite a cast of characters and it is sometimes difficult to keep their relationships straight, in part because of the multiple marriages. Big Angel, the main character, is dying of cancer. His mother dies the day before his 70th birthday. His younger half-brother, Little Angel, has come for the funeral and the party. There are flashbacks that help to shape both characters and their relationship as well as the other family members. Surprise at end!… (more)
LibraryThing member Doondeck
Raucous story of two brothers and their extended Mexican American family.
LibraryThing member SamSattler
"The House of Broken Angels" is a rather complex (when it comes to keeping up with the family tree) story centering around two half-brothers (one Mexican and one with a white mother) and their family. The time has come for Big Angel to recognize that his days are indeed growing short, and he would really like to see Little Angel become the family patriarch in his place. Whether that will happen remains to be determined largely over the course of a single weekend in which the 100-year-old mother of Big Angel is buried and Big Angel celebrates what is sure to be his final birthday.

This one is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes a real tear-jerker. It can even be a bit nerve wracking at times when some family members seem so determined to self-destruct. But what it always is, is entertaining. Give this one a look.
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LibraryThing member ThomasPluck
Another masterpiece from Urrea. A moving story of family, one that reminds me of my own. Beautiful and uplifting even in inevitable death.
LibraryThing member Kristelh
I enjoyed this story of a family. Big Angel is dying and the family gets together to say good bye. During this time, there are flashbacks to the past and also It felt so intimate and so real to me. I enjoyed the story of the man dying, facing his dying and his family dealing with his dying. I listened to the audio read by the author and I felt it was just perfect. Granted it is harder to make all the connections between the big family and reading it might have been better but I loved hearing the English, Spanish, and Spanglish. A great book.… (more)
LibraryThing member wilsonknut
This is a fun and surprisingly deep read. Big Angel, the patriarch of a Mexican-American family, knows he is dying and decides to call the family together for one last birthday party. As we learn about each member of the family, we also learn the history of the family and how they moved from Mexico to San Diego. There's tragedy and a lot of humor. Big Angel's reflections on life and his interactions with his half-brother Little Angel provide the depth.

My only gripe with the book was I had a hard time keeping track of who were sisters, brothers, cousins, sons, daughters, et cetera, which made it difficult to keep the generations and ages straight.
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LibraryThing member decaturmamaof2
I loved this book -- it's my first book by Urrea, but it won't be my last. The character development is painstakingly honest, as is the story-telling.
LibraryThing member cdyankeefan
The De La Cruz family gathers together to mourn the passing of their 100 year old matriarch.Oldest son Miguel Angel. Known to the family as Bg Angel, is terminally ill and since the family is together decides to throw himself a birthday party. What follows is a wonderful story of a family, warts and all,manifesting in jealousies,resentments, secrets and underneath it all a lot of love for Big Angel. Since the family is so large, it does take awhile to keep all the members and relationships straight. A family tree at the beginning of the book is a very helpful tool.… (more)
LibraryThing member nancyadair
Oh, my--this book! I was overwhelmed by this boisterous, complicated, colorful family gathered for the funeral of their matriarch and the last birthday of her son Big Angel, who is dying of cancer.

As I read, this family took residence in my heart. They were not so unlike my own family. I remembered the large family gatherings of my childhood; we have our 'colorful' characters, too. My cousins and I are are too quickly becoming the oldest generation--the next to die.

Through the story of one particular Mexican-American family, The House of Broken Angels recalls what it means to be family. Through the life and death of one man, we grapple with the purpose of our own life and death.

Big Angel's grandfather came to America after the Mexican Revolution, tried to enlist for service during WWI, then in 1932 the family was deported back to Mexico. He was First Angel.

Big Angel's deceased father, a cop, is still a powerful presence in the lives of Big Angel and his half-brother, Little Angel. He was feared, he was idolized, and he was hated. Big Angel's dad abandoned his family for an American woman,"all Indiana milk and honey" with "Cornflower-blue eyes." He had 'forgotten' he had a son named Angel in his first family. The half-brothers have had an uneasy relationship.

At his seventieth birthday party, Big Angel is surrounded by his beloved Perla and their children, Perla's sisters who he helped raise, his half-siblings, and grandkids. Those who have died, and a son who has been estranged, are present in aching hearts.

As Big Angel struggles with how to die, how to atone for his sins, and the legacy he wants to leave his family, we learn the family's stories, the things that have divided and alienated them, and the things that bind them together. They will break your heart and they will inspire you with the strength and love of their family bonds. The revelation of this purpose is the climax of the novel, a scene that you will never forget.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea was inspired by his own family in writing this book. His eldest brother was dying when a day before his birthday he had to bury his mother. The family put on a 'blowout party, the kind of ruckus he would have delighted in during better days."

Urrea also wanted to tell the story of Mexican-American families, about immigrants and the American dream, living on the border between two countries and cultures, the hopes and dreams and cruel realities.

Reviewers use the word exuberant in describing this book. It is!

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
For most of this book, I listened to the audio which I highly recommend. The stories shared throughout each page made me feel as though I was sitting at a family reunion and listening to all of the stories each person shared. Some sad. Some hilarious. "They would spend forever side by side. And the rest of his fallen children would one day slumber around them all, a constellation of extinguished stars." The perfect book to cuddle up with; storytelling at its best.… (more)
LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
A poignant multi-generational saga that really occurred mostly within a single day. What stood out to me most was how life is relentless even in the face of death. There were a few OMG sort of moments, which, thinking back, kept the plot interesting but also gave the ultimate arc of the story a little perplexity. In true Urrea style, we meet some fantastic characters, but it was hard for me to follow at times. I always felt like I needed to learn more about them because I just liked them so much. (And I tended to enjoy the present-day scenes to the reminisces.) This isn't my favorite of Urrea's, but dang, is it still another touching novel.

Many thanks to Little, Brown and Co. and NetGalley for this advanced copy.
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LibraryThing member cmt100
"He grabbed at a conversational life preserver that happened to drift across the open water of his mind."


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