Book of the Week: Lotería – Mario Alberto Zambrano

This debut a suspenseful literary novel with the suspense set up by the structure. Told from the point of view of a mute 11-year-old Mexican girl held in state custody, we learn her story through her journal writing–entries inspired by the colorful Lotería cards she brings with her to the state home. Why is her sister in intensive care? Why is her father in jail? Zambrano masterfully reveals the complete story by way of young Luz’s fragmented recollections.

This book landed at Harper after a heated industry auction—but nothing makes me feel the buzz like interest from booksellers in the field. When Carol Schneck Varner at Schuler Books & Music in Okemos, MI sent me this Indie Next nomination, I started to feel like good things were coming for Lotería: “[T]his strange novel is haunting, joyous and melancholy.  The strength of the love between members of an immigrant family is the same power that ends up nearly destroying them all, while the life in the characters transcends the painful events that unfold.  A spellbinding debut!”

Media buzz is ramping up, too. PW gave it a starred review and Zambrano will be interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition on 7/6 followed by an appearance on the Diane Rehm Show on 8/5. I expect a lot of review attention in the month between.

Luz is no stranger to in-between states, and, rendered mute by trauma, she addresses her history to God using the Lotería cards that are her sole possession. What follows are 53 chapters, each corresponding to a pictograph—beginning with “La Araña” (the spider) and ending with “La Rana” (the frog). The accompanying sketches assemble Luz’s fractious family life in equally jagged fragments, some tender as “La Dama” (the lady), others deadly as “El Alacán” (the scorpion). The two central figures in Luz’s recollections are her Papí, a tortured alcoholic who terrorizes his family, and her older sister Estrella, who pays a steep price for defying her father. And yet Luz’s strongest memories are of the Mexican border town where she vacations, mariachi music, fireworks, and the roses in her yard. From these, Zambrano coaxes a language that straddles pictures and words, Spanish and English. An intriguing debut and an elegiac, miniature entry in the literature of Latin American diaspora that will break your heart.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The broken tale and imaginative first-person narration lend weight to this curious novel. It’s an impressive first step for an artist exploring a new medium.”
Kirkus Reviews

Lotería is a taut, fraught, look at tragedy, its aftermath, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive. With suspense, dread, and always the possibility for redemption, we watch as Zambrano flips the cards of chance and fate.”
— Justin Torres

“This novel seems simple and straightforward at first, but in fact Lotería is anything but that: Mario Alberto Zambrano’s wonderful book is constructed as a beautiful, gripping, and lyrical set of riddles (asked and solved) about life—and—death matters in one family. Like the novels of Cortazar, its form is intricate and beautiful. ”
— Charles Baxter

Lotería (9780062268549) by Mario Alberto Zambrano. $21.99 hardcover. 7/9/13 on sale.

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