Mario Alberto Zambrano opens his novel with a description of loterÃa, a game similar to bingo. As he says, there “are fifty-four cards and each comes with a riddle, un dicho. There is a traditional set of riddles, but sometimes dealers create their own to trick the players.” When the listeners determine the card the caller describes, they cover it.
As the title of the novel and each chapter is representative of an aspect of the game, it’s relatively easy to link the chapters and the story they tell to the card, yet the “riddle” aspect of the game becomes much more complicated as Luz, the main character, tells her story.
Her sister Estrella is in ICU; her father is in jail, and Luz doesn’t know where her mother is. A ward of the state, she begins her journal with a sketch of la araÃ±a – the spider – describing the spiders that crawl up the walls of the room where she is staying, a place away from her family. Though it’s evident that something traumatic has happened (Luz won’t talk to anyone but her journal), Zambrano doesn’t let on, only revealing more of Luz, her family, and her tale as each card is called at the start of a chapter.
My only complaint is that Luz, writing in her journal, doesn’t tell her story in linear fashion. At times, it’s difficult to link when and where a specific event took place, and thus I felt distanced from her story. The big reveal is also confusing in the telling, yet the significance of what is happening and its effect on Luz is all too clear.
Several people on Goodreads complained that the use of Spanish was a stumbling block for the story, but I loved it. This is the story of a young Mexican American. How else could her story be told? She isn’t fluent in the language of her mother and father, but she knows the language of loterÃa.
Mario Alberto Zambrano’s debut novel is a quick read, and the format dares the reader to read just one more set until the final card is played.
Add this to your Goodreads shelf.