, Muskogee, OK


November 12, 2013

Hit the lottery with book, recipe

Houston native Mario Alberto Zambrano brings to life the thoughts of 11-year-old Luz Maria Castillo, a ward of the state following a tragic mishap in her family, in his first novel, “Loteria.” Because Luz will not talk, she is given a journal and writes about what she is not ready to say out loud. All Luz has with her is a week’s worth of clothes and a game called Loteria. As she flips over each of the 54 cards, the images evoke memories leading up to the fateful night that destroyed her family.

Zambrano’s lyrical novel is interspersed with Spanish phrases and loaded with Mexican customs, but it is not a story of the immigrant experience. Although Luz is the only one in her family born in the United States, the novel is ultimately a portrayal of family dynamics and the resilience of the young, even in the face of domestic violence and child abuse.

Using Loteria as the basis for the novel’s unfolding was an intriguing tactic. Loteria is a game of chance very similar to our bingo. It originated in Italy in the late 1500s and was brought to New Mexico by the Spanish in the 1700s. It is played like bingo with a game card (tabla), but instead of numbers, a riddle (dicha) is called out, for example La Luna might be “the lamp of lovers.” To score in this quick-thinking game, you must fill a row on the playing card, just like in bingo. “Loteria” is yelled out as soon as the row is filled.

It is no wonder Zambrano penned a poetic novel that just skirts the magical realism so prevalent in Spanish language literature. Before he graduated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, he spent 17 years as a dancer and choreographer for several ballet companies. He has said that “a voice in a piece of literature dances to its own language.” Luz’s voice dances to a language both singular and universal.

Traditional Italian osso buco takes on a Mexican flair just right for this time of year. Serve it with elote, Mexican street vendor corn, for a New World Thanksgiving feast.

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