Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Loteria  by Mario Alberto Zambrano

Zambrano came up with a novel way of telling a dark and tragic story.  Little Luz Castillo is in a shelter care situation, while her sister, Estrella is in the intensive care unit of a hospital and her father is in jail.  Luz doesn't know how to tell her story and so, at her aunt's request, she begins a journal to capture what she's feeling.  To assist her in putting her thoughts down on paper, she uses a loteria deck.  

Loteria is a Mexican game a little bit like bingo.  I recommend reading the book to get a sense of it, or clicking the link for the wikipedia entry on the game.  For our purposes you need to know that the game uses pictures, instead of numbers and each has associated songs, rhymes and/or riddles for the players to recognize and mark their cards accordingly.

Each chapter of this slim volume is represented by one loteria card.  Luz selects a card and then she tells her story. Using this device, Zambrana doles out Luz's tale in tiny bites, each one pulling you more and more into Luz's tragic history and the destruction of her family, her way of life, all that she's ever known.  Unfortunately, it all also happens before her twelfth birthday.

This is Zambrano's first novel and I believe he has a rich future ahead of him.  Loteria is small, and entertaining and tragic and moving.  I read this book in an afternoon, sitting by my pool.  While the book took very little time to read, it stayed with me long after I closed the cover.  Most books just don't have that power.  This one certainly does.

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