FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Family Violence

by CHARLES R. LARSON

I confess to ignorance about Lotería, a Mexican game of chance resembling bingo—except, instead of numbers and letters, there are images.  Mario Alberto Zambrano builds his first novel from these images (la corolla, el sol, la rosa, el diabolito, and so on), reproducing them throughout the book and plotting his story around them.  We’ve encountered variations on this in other novels: recipes, Taro cards, or regular decks of cards.  To a certain extent, relying on such images is a bit of a gimmick, which is only to say that Zambrano’s story of a young girl named Luz María Castillo stands on its own, and I can imagine a reader’s satisfaction without the pictures.  Removing them, the quick pace would still be retained, so I’ll call it a toss-up whether they are necessary for the story’s dramatic tension or not.

From the opening chapters we realize that some traumatic event has taken place because Luz, who is eleven years old, has been detained in a juvenile detention center, somewhere in a city in Southern California.  She’s of Mexican descent, the only one in her family to have been born in the United States.  Presumably, her parents and her older sister, Estrella, are illegals.  Her father, Jose Antonio Castillo, is in jail; her Aunt Tencha is her only contact with the outside world, because, initially, it is unclear what has happened to her mother and her sister.  Luz won’t speak a word to anyone.  She’s been given a blank notebook, and the authorities hope that she will write down her thoughts.  It’s her own decision to use the images of the lotería, to call forth her memories of the past.

It is not difficult to speculate about what has gone wrong.  The girls’ father is an increasingly violent man, his violence provoked by bouts of drinking.  He’s got a job as a laborer and had expectations of something better.  His wife may be having an affair with her employer, though that is never clear. What is certain, however, is that the girls’ parents fight, brutally, and too often.  Luz and her sister run to their room, listening to the noise until it ends. “Because that was the game, to see who could last the longest listening to the furniture being thrown without running away.  But there’d be a note in Mom’s voice that zambranowould mark her breaking point, when she couldn’t anymore, and the way we could tell was by the sounds being pushed out of her body.  Because when he’d kick her in the stomach or hit her across the face they were different kinds of sounds.  And when those sounds would alternate, Estrella would lose.”  Luz adds, “I stayed in case something happened, in case I’d have to call someone.”

The girls are also victim of Papi’s violence.  When Luz is only seven, she’s pressured by an older boy to masturbate him through his jeans.  When her father learns about this, he retaliates by hitting her hand so violently that he breaks her wrist.  After the doctor sets it in a cast, which is taken off much later, it’s permanently dislocated.  “When someone notices my wrist, with the bone sticking out and the lump on top, I tell them, ‘My dad broke it because I jerked off my primo.’” On another occasion, when he is angry at Estrella, he slaps her so hard that she’s knocked out.  There are lesser incidents when their mother also slaps her daughters.

Luz’s sympathies are with her father and the lack of control he has once he begins drinking.  “I figured he fought us not because he didn’t love us but because he believed in right and wrong.  There were right things and wrong things.  And when you did a wrong thing, you got a chingaso.  It wasn’t any different when it came to Mom.  It wasn’t any different when it came to him.”  No surprise, then, when much later—after their mother has left them—that Luz still loves her father and tries to understand him.  “There were those nights when his eyes would get bloodshot and I’d want to drink with him.  Not a lot, just a sip, so I could see what it was like to become him.  To be someone else and to knock things over without caring.  I didn’t want to hit anyone or hurt someone.  I just wanted to know where it came from, to figure out why he did what he did because it wasn’t coming from him.  It was coming from that man in the bottle, Don Pedro.  He’d get inside Papi’s head and in his blood and shake him until he turned into someone else.” )

Lotería is difficult reading, unfortunately falling into a category of earlier narratives that deal with parental abuse of children.  Keri Hulme’s Booker Award-winning novel, The Bone People (1984) immediately comes to mind, as does Martha Grimes’ much more recent work, Ma, He Sold Me for a Pack of Cigarettes.  There’s plenty of abuse of children in Dickens’ novels, also.  That’s why it’s difficult to determine if Zambrano wants us to conclude that his story is typical of immigrants living in the United States.  What is certain, however, is that Zambrano—formerly a professional dancer but currently at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—has made an amazing pirouette, life-changing no doubt.  His second novel will need no illustrations.

Mario Alberto Zambrano: Lotería

HarperCollins, 288 pp., $21.99

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail