"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Nayeli is a young woman who works in a taqueria in Tres Camarones, a coastal village in Mexico too poor to be of interest to most people, attacting a few surfers occasionally. But then the village's remoteness and its lack of men (almost all of whom have gone north to the US) makes it appealing to those involved in the drug trade. With the help of two friends and her entertaining and spunky aunt Irma, Tres Camarones' new mayor, Nayeli concocts a plan to reclaim the village from the criminals. After seeing the movie The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli knows she must go to the US and find seven men to come back to Tres Camarones and defend the people. But this quest is more than just a public service to her village, Nayeli hopes to find her father who has long since disappeared into the US and to bring him home where he belongs.

When Nayeli and her two friends set off on their noble quest, the story really starts cooking along. The girls' travels through Mexico are vivid and not uneventful. After all, what is a noble quest without windmills to overcome? Unfortunately for the girls, the windmills are very often not of their imagining but instead real obstacles to their goal. Getting into the US is not easy and the irony of the matter is that once they are there as illegal immigrants, it will also be illegal for them to try and get back into Mexico. But first they must find seven men who are willing to return with them and then to take back their town.

The characters in the book are vividly written and just plain fun. They are real and entertaining and funny and a delight to spend time reading about. The tone of the book stays fairly light despite the deep and heavy themes of perseverance, illegal immigration, discrimination, poverty, and bravery. But it is this very lightness that allows the reader to think clearly about these loaded political and emotional issues. There is humor galore here and I read much of the book with a smile. Nayeli's strength is apparent to all but herself and she is a totally engaging and appealing main character. A well-constructed, beautifully paced novel, this is a great reading group choice, the adventure and the balanced look at life for illegals in the US make it eminently discussable as well.