“I think this whole thing — ‘what if we all read a book together’ — is a really nice concept,” said author Luis Alberto Urea. “It means a kind of unity, teamwork that I think is really important, especially now, with the division that’s happening in all over the country. Something that can connect us.”
It’s Talking About Seattle Reads, the citywide book club program offered annually by the Seattle Public Library. A tradition since 1998, when the book “The Sweet Hereafter” by Russell Banks and the show had a more difficult title if everyone in Seattle read the same book, Seattle reads Everything became virtual during the pandemic, but he’s back this month with personal events featuring Urrea and his novel, “The House of Broken Angels.” Urea will lead three debates at different locations in Seattle on October 19 and 20, one of which—appropriate for a book about a Mexican American family—conducted in Spanish. Copies of “The House of Broken Angels” In both English and Spanish, currently available at every Seattle Public Library branch; You don’t need a library card to borrow one.
Posted in 2018, “The House of Broken Angels’ events take place over two days in San Diego, It revolves around the 70th birthday party of the family patriarch known as Big Angel, who has cancer and who will surely face his last celebration. His younger half-brother, Little Angel—unsure of his place in the family after his passing years ago—is traveling from Seattle for the event. The two days—which also include Big Angel’s mother’s funeral—became a rowdy, sprawling party; We became part of the de la Cruz family, sharing in their joys and their tragedies.
For Uriah, whose other works include “The Beautiful North” and “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” writing the book was a “painful autobiography,” he said, in a phone interview from his home in a Chicago suburb. Uriah grew up in San Diego and left; Little Angel, who shares the heritage of Urea (a Mexican father and an American mother), “reflects in some ways my own journey. People are kind of escaping from their homes and trying to find a new life.” Although he himself headed east, he chose Seattle as the destination for his fictional counterpart: Uriah’s wife, Cindy, from Burren and he knows the area well.
He said the whole idea for “House of Broken Angels” came from a picture: “My dying brother is in bed with me lying next to him.” Uriah is back in San Diego for his brother’s birthday party, and is told that the guest of honor was in bed but he wanted to see him. “I went back there, and he was young, he was in pajamas,” said Uriah. “He said, come here, lay down beside me…so I crawled into bed with him. This happened all day. Then I found out the beds, all the siblings came, and all these 70-year-olds crawled with him to bed.” Other guests arrived and began to pile up – and in this way a novel was born.
For his three appearances with the Seattle Reds, Uriah likes to keep things unorganized, and looks forward to hearing from those who’ve read the book. “I love the audience questions,” he said, “because you never know where you’re going.” He will give a brief introductory talk at each event, describing “some background to the book, some roots, some things that come from real life, and how one negotiates a story strongly connected to real life.” Few of the book will read aloud.
“I enjoy conversation a lot,” Uriah said of the many events he has done of this nature. He is especially looking forward to discussing the book in Spanish. “When I get the chance to do that, I feel like a family reunion. It’s very touching, in a different way.”
If any of the audience members asked him what he’s working on now, he’d probably move on again with gusto. He’s doing a final review for his next novel, “Goodnight, Erin,” which will be published next spring. Like “The House of Broken Angels,” it’s family-inspired, but in this case a different offshoot: his late mother, who worked with the Red Cross on the front lines during World War II. For the book, Uriah traveled across Europe to trace her journey, conversing with contemporaries, and studying his mother’s voluminous letters and journals. It has been a labor of love for several years.
Meanwhile, while he awaits news of an upcoming Hulu adaptation of “The House of Broken Angels” (unsure of the current status of the project, but the plan is for the broadcaster to create a six-episode series), I’m happy to be back with a book close to his heart — The person whose warm message about gathering close loved ones resonates even deeper these days.
“Part of my determination,” he said, “was that I kept thinking, ‘This could be an Irish story, it might be a German story, it might just be an American story’.” “We all have these families, wild animals and sheep and saints and black grandmothers. Or at least you wish you would.”