Big Angel is the patriarch of a sprawling Mexican-American family. He’s the one everyone looks up to, the one who sets the rules – kind of like the Godfather. However, he is dying of cancer and starting to look at the world a little differently. The House of Broken Angels takes place over two days at Big Angel’s home in San Diego, first at his mother’s funeral, then at his blowout 70th birthday party, which he is convinced will be his last. Urrea describes the events from the points of view of the various family members, but mainly through the eyes of Big Angel and his younger stepbrother, Little Angel, as they come together to relive memories and forgive past wrongs. The story is beautiful, touching, and engrossing, about family relationships and what it’s like to be a first- or second-generation Mexican immigrant straddling two worlds. Urrea writes stunning descriptions of Mexican food and Mexican landscapes, peppered with Spanish (most of which I had to look up, but that made the experience even more fun).
This is an autobiographical book for Urrea, who like Little Angel, is the child of a Mexican father and an American mother. Mostly it’s a book about love: romantic love, love for family, for food, for Mexican culture, for books. It’s just bursting with emotion. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Urrea himself, and I think this added so much to the story. Funny, accessible, and bittersweet, this book is a treasure.