Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano
HarperCollins, 7/2/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062268549


With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of Lotería cards—a Mexican version of bingo featuring bright, colorful images.
Neither the social worker assigned to her case nor her Aunt Tencha, who desperately pleads for her niece’s release, can cajole Luz to speak. The young girl’s only confidant is her journal. Within its pages, Luz addresses an invisible higher power, sharing her secrets.
Using the Lotería cards as her muse, Luz picks one card from the deck with each shuffle. Each of the cards’ colorful images— mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars—sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

My Thoughts:

It is slowly revealed what has happened to eleven-year-old Luz María Castillo and her family through diary entries she makes based on Loteria cards she draws from a deck in Mario Alberto Zambrano's debut novel Loteria. This is a tragic story told through the memories and in the voice of a young girl. The 53 chapters all open with the picture of a different Lotaria card. Luz is talking to God in her diary entries, as she contemplates her memories of her family. She is in state custody and not talking to anyone about her family. Very slowly the dynamics of her violent, dysfunctional family are reveal and we learn what was happening.

The chapters are short and the memories Luz shares are not all synchronous, but instead are recollected fragments of various family events and occasions from her lifetme. We learn about her father's drinking, the violence in her family, but the full extent of these occurrences isn’t revealed all at once. At the beginning we know something bad has happened, after all Luz is in state custody and not talking to anyone, but the total picture isn't revealed until much later.  

Luz says of a counselor "Then she looks at me like I'm one of those stories you hear about on the ten o’çlock news."(pg. 3)
Later, when Luz writes, "She wouldn't know what it was like. We all fought. We all hit each other."(pg. 16) we begin to understand that this isn't going to be an easy story. 

At the beginning of the novel you may feel a bit of disconnect with the story simply because you don't have even a partial picture of what is going on, but stay with it. Luz lets us know that she's cautious and not speaking to anyone when she says,"I keep my mouth shut because I don't know the rules of the game."(pg. 17) As she deals out the Lotaria cards for her own private game and writes about her life in her diary/journal, we understand the environment of violence and alcoholism that gave birth to her cautious nature.

The narrative, in English, also contains many Spanish phrases and sentences that are smoothly incorporated into the text. Since the Loteria cards are pictured in the book, it really is a much shorter novel than the page numbers would indicate. Zambrano has done an excellent job capturing the voice of this eleven year old girl in epistolary form while exploring the dark side of a very dysfunctional family.

Highly recommended 

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this sounds like a book that would really blow me away as a reader ... I'm afraid that I'll be heartbroken as I read but I think I'll love this book anyway.

Thanks for being on the tour!