Once upon a time in 1873, a 14-year-old Yaqui girl known to her people as The Hummingbird gives birth to Teresita, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a powerful white rancher, Don Tomás Urrea. The restless mother soon abandons Teresita without ever telling Tomas about the child's existence. Miraculously, The Hummingbird's Daughter somehow survives until her sixth year. Then other miracles begin to reshape the girl's future: when Tomás finally discovers that Teresita is his daughter, he takes her in as a member of the Urrea family at the Cabora ranch.
Ten years later, however, Teresita's world changes when she is brutalized by an unspeakable act of violence. She slips into a coma and dreams that she has died. Only it is not a dream! As the family prays at her wake, a real miracle happens: Teresita returns from the dead. Moreover, she returns as an extraordinarily powerful curandera (faith healer) and embarks on a lifelong mission of healing thousands. News of Teresita's power soon spreads throughout Mexico but terrifying tensions rapidly build toward a catastrophic crisis as she attracts the dangerous attention of both the powerful Roman Catholic Church and the murderous Mexican government.
The Hummingbird's Daughter is an amazing first novel from a superb storyteller. Through some sort of sleight-of-hand sorcery, Luis Alberto Urrea—who is worthy of favorable comparison with Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Rulfo and Jorge Luis Borges at their very best—has artfully combined the sacred and the profane to create an extraordinarily mesmerizing and profoundly important novel. Yes, at one level The Hummingbird's Daughter is the epic story of Teresita's survival and her spiritual powers, but it is also a family's fascinating history (based on the author's own family); a story of cultural, religious and political conflict; and a paradoxical tale of magical realism and terrifying beauty.
Tim Davis teaches literature at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.