Echo Park is like a river that cannot be stepped in the same way twice. As with so many corners of Los Angeles, the Mexicans in this part of town watch with dismay and denial as their own few blocks are steadily encroached upon by gentrification, racism, and the inevitable passage of time. Yet even as the world keeps turning, many of the residents are frozen in place, tied together by the common misfortune of poverty and the uncommon moment when a little girl rocking out to Madonna is killed in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting.
The facts may be invented, but the total portrait of a shifting city is alarmingly realistic. Giving voice to the varied vignettes are eight different narrators who are all possessed of the characters' similar sorrows, awes, and outrages. Their stories can stand alone, but are much more deeply poignant when taken together. We have Aurora, who the bullet barely missed, and her mother, a maid in a house that is already clean. We have the crazy Coat Queen, who think she's seen the Virgin Mary, and the mysterious Jesus, who thinks he is The Lord. We have the illegal day laborer, who is asked to cover up one murder, and the citizen bus driver, who is asked to reveal another murder.
Throughout this remarkably astute observation of urban decay, the cacophony of voices piles up into a clear and singular tone of struggle. They struggle for their very lives; they struggle to find forgiveness for crimes long since past; they struggle to find meaning in the ever-changing storefronts and ever-shifting boundaries of a city divided by race and wealth. Each narrator in turn steps up to deliver the sad reports, the astonishing connections, and the overdue diatribes. The end result is a debut novel that manages to uncover some glints of optimism in its unflinching portrayal of Mexican life in The City of Angels. Megan Volpert
"We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours."
With these words, spoken by an illegal Mexican day laborer, The Madonnas of Echo Park takes us into the unseen world of Los Angeles, following the men and women who cook the meals, clean the homes, and struggle to lose their ethnic identity in the pursuit of the American dream.
When a dozen or so girls and mothers gather on an Echo Park street corner to act out a scene from a Madonna music video, they find themselves caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. In the aftermath, Aurora Esperanza grows distant from her mother, Felicia, who as a housekeeper in the Hollywood Hills establishes a unique relationship with a detached housewife.
The Esperanzas’ shifting lives connect with those of various members of their neighborhood. A day laborer trolls the streets for work with men half his age and witnesses a murder that pits his morality against his illegal status; a religious hypocrite gets her comeuppance when she meets the Virgin Mary at a bus stop on Sunset Boulevard; a typical bus route turns violent when cultures and egos collide in the night, with devastating results; and Aurora goes on a journey through her gentrified childhood neighborhood in a quest to discover her own history and her place in the land that all Mexican Americans dream of, "the land that belongs to us again."
Like the Academy Award–winning film Crash, The Madonnas of Echo Park follows the intersections of its characters and cultures in Los Angeles. In the footsteps of Junot Díaz and Sherman Alexie, Brando Skyhorse in his debut novel gives voice to one neighborhood in Los Angeles with an astonishing— and unforgettable—lyrical power.
©2010 Brando Skyhorse (P)2010 Simon & Schuster
This was one of my favorite works, and amazingly, it seems to be Skyhorse's first and only novel. Every character is completely developed, so much that you are drawn deeply into each of their lives, knowing all of their insecurities and struggles. At first, it is not obvious, but each of the characters intertwine with the others in some interesting relationship or bond but, in most cases, the reader is left to figure out the relationship, until well into each chapter. This fictional work speaks in a very real way to stereotypes, class struggles, prejudices, immigration issues, urban decay and urban renewal, all in a single, very interesting community. I loved it. I just keep waiting for the book to be a Pulitzer winner or a lesser honor, such as one of Oprah's Book Club Picks! This book was said to be related to the Pulitzer Prize winner "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," which I also enjoyed, but it was nowhere near the interesting entanglement of characters developed in The Madonnas!
I'm the author of the book "Bronx DA" and an attorney.
I read this book based on reviews and thought it was very interesting. It follows several characters and can get a bit confusing, but you are able to place the characters and the time based on the genre of music they listen to, which was very creative. A really enjoyable story with excellent narration. I highly recommend it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and each narrator. I was afraid, at first, that all the characters, secondary characters, and narrators would get confusing but it never did.
The characters are rich and the backdrop is laid out so beautifully that you feel you are there. I was so enthralled with the book and characters that I had to constantly remind myself that I myself am not a chola in Echo Park but a white girl in the South. The narrators do a beautiful job!
The only 'complaint' I have is that I didn't (and yet strangely did) like how some character's lives were left so open-ended. I felt that some of the stories were left too open, but I do feel it is far better to be left wanting more or to be left curious than to over explain or provide too perfect of an ending. So I don't like, and yet do like, how some of the lives were left open ended.
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