My Broken Language: Book summary and reviews of My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes

My Broken Language

A Memoir

by Quiara Alegría Hudes

My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes X
My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes
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About this book

Book Summary

A Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright tells her lyrical story of coming of age against the backdrop of an ailing Philadelphia barrio, with her sprawling Puerto Rican family as a collective muse.

Quiara Alegría Hudes was the sharp-eyed girl on the stairs while her family danced in her grandmother's tight North Philly kitchen. She was awed by her aunts and uncles and cousins, but haunted by the secrets of the family and the unspoken, untold stories of the barrio—even as she tried to find her own voice in the sea of language around her, written and spoken, English and Spanish, bodies and books, Western art and sacred altars. Her family became her private pantheon, a gathering circle of powerful orisha-like women with tragic real-world wounds, and she vowed to tell their stories—but first she'd have to get off the stairs and join the dance. She'd have to find her language.

Weaving together Hudes's love of books with the stories of her family, the lessons of North Philly with those of Yale, this is an inspired exploration of home, memory, and belonging—narrated by an obsessed girl who fought to become an artist so she could capture the world she loved in all its wild and delicate beauty.

First published in April 2021; paperback reprint January 2022.


About the Author
Quiara Alegría Hudes is a playwright, wife and mother of two, barrio feminist and native of West Philly, U.S.A. Hailed for her work's exuberance, intellectual rigor, and rich imagination, her plays and musicals have been performed around the world. Hudes is a playwright in residence at Signature Theater in New York, and Profile Theatre in Portland, Oregon, has dedicated its 2017 season to producing her work. She recently founded a crowd-sourced testimonial project, Emancipated Stories, that seeks to put a personal face on mass incarceration by having inmates share one page of their life story with the world.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Music is one of the primary languages explored in the memoir. Quiara steeps herself in many genres—classical, Afro-Caribbean batá, merengue, pop, and hip-hop. How do these distinct music styles serve different purposes in her life? What different kinds of music do you listen to and what spaces and memories do they conjure?
  2. The concept of "home" appears often: How do you think "home" evolves for Quiara as the memoir progresses?
  3. What kind of faith and spiritual practice is Quiara developing as she enters womanhood? Are the faiths she inherits and encounters at odds with each other? Can they coexist? Are we beholden to the faiths our families give us? What about the ones we are personally drawn to, outside the scope of our...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about My Broken Language:

Do you agree that non-white citizens face more hurdles than their white counterparts?
Absolutely, we see it on a daily basis in the newspapers and on television. Growing up in a poorer section of my hometown with multi ethnic families as neighbors, I never gave it a thought as to how non-whites might have been treated differently. ... - caroln

How do you feel the Philadelphia setting functions as a character and how do you think the author relates to it?
As in Chicago, Philadelphia has segments of the city that are mostly inhabited by those of the same culture. It was natural for her to follow that which she was comfortable. Seemed like a fun and festive environment in contrast to the more ... - susannak

How do you think "home" evolves for Quiara as the memoir progresses?
Home is where you are seen and heard and appreciated for who you are. Shouldn’t have to defend yourself. Unfortunately I believe her dad lost out. Her life ended up far richer due to the strong alliances and culture that was fostered by her ... - christinec

How do you think the reaction of other students influenced Quiara throughout her academic career? Were you bullied as a child? If so, how did it shape the person you became?
I was bullied as a teenager because I had psoriasis. It was really bad and really noticeable and other girls my age were horrible to me because of it. I was kind of a loner which made it even worse. The only good thing I can say about moving to Texas... - gaylamath

How does the title, My Broken Language, speak to the entire memoir?
At one fairly early point in the book, Quiara says "That gathering had been secular, this one was spiritual. And yet, a pulse is a pulse is a pulse. A drum is a drum is a drum. Yes, it was true and here lay the evidence: dance and ... - juliaa

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A]stonishing...The fine-tuned storytelling is studded with sharply turned phrases... This heartfelt, glorious exploration of identity and authorship will be a welcome addition to the literature of Latinx lives." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[E]legant and moving...A beautifully written account of the importance of culture and family in a small but powerful community." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Quiara Alegría Hudes is in her own league. Her sentences will take your breath away. How lucky we are to have her telling our stories." - Lin-Manuel Miranda, award-winning composer, lyricist, and creator of Hamilton

"Quiara Alegría Hudes is a bona fide storyteller about the people she loves—especially the women in her family who cook, talk, light candles, and conjure the spirits. Enormously empathetic and funny, My Broken Language is rich with unflinching observations that bring us in close, close, without cloaking the details. The language throughout is gorgeous and so moving. I love this book." - Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana

"Every line of this book is poetry. From North Philly to all of us, Hudes showers us with aché, teaching us what it looks like to find languages of survival in a country with a 'panoply of invisibilities.' Hudes paints unforgettable moments on every page for mothers and daughters and all spiritually curious and existential human beings. This story is about Latinas. But it is also about all of us." - Maria Hinojosa, Emmy Award–winning journalist and author of Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America

This information about My Broken Language shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Wendy

Boriuca Soul
Divided into named chapters, the memoir is given shape and texture from the chapters’ names.

When you speak more than one language, you are enriched. Her journey wanders through English to Spanish, through literature, from Quakerism and Santeria to music, from her mother’s family history in Puerto Rico to Philly and its suburbs to Yale. How do you build bridges? Are they even possible? Of course, they are. ¡Por supuesto!

Ever heard “when it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (cuando no está roto, no lo arregle)? But, Quiara tries… a fierce search for identity to make sense of herself and her divided world, embracing her Boriuca roots that have their own magic to sooth her soul and find magic as a writer of plays in Grad School. And, spoiler alert, she finds it! Mi heroína!

Trying to string beads that don’t seem to fit on the string. Maybe she didn’t know that there was even a string to connect the dots of her fractured existence. Good for you Qui Qui!

A real page turner, although, you don’t want to go too fast. I re-read passages over and over to see and feel what I was missing. Hudes has such richness and honesty in her words. And for those of you who are not bilingüe, you will need a Spanish American dictionary, or at least an app on your phone to gather the meaning and texture of what Hudes writes, hears and feels throughout her life.
Enjoy and gain a little Boriuca soul!

SjD

An absorbing cultural blend!
This was an absorbing and often “eye opening” read.
The author was intelligent enough to take advantage of the educational opportunities provided for her, without losing her cultural identity.
I thoroughly enjoyed Quiara’s descriptions of the physical differences between the Puerto Rican women in her family and the current ideas of “American” female beauty.
Her relatives were able to appreciate their femininity in all of its shapes and forms. It was a shame that so many of them succumbed to the AIDS epidemic. The author is truly a “survivor”.

Dorinne

A Poetic Memoir
This memoir, so gorgeously written, takes us into the life of Quiara Hudes with her family of Puerto Rican immigrants in a barrio in Philadelphia. Hudes writes with a poetic zest about her training to become an accomplished and very talented musician. She produced a musical during her early years at Yale and went on to become a prize-winning playwright with the Broadway hit "In the Heights" and her Pulitzer-prize-winning drama "Water by the Spoonful." While Hudes’ world is certainly different from my world, with the Puerto Rican culture and Spanish innuendos, this is a story to be savored and a young woman to be admired for her perseverance and dedication, not to mention her immense talent!

Christine Clapp

Immersive Experience
By the woman who wrote the Broadway hit “In the Heights.” And a Pulitzer Prize winner. From West Philly, she shares her growing up there and the stark contrast of her neighborhood and family’s lives and history and culture vs her dad’s white world (“polite hell”) and the people and institutions she encountered at Yale. Her writing is genius. Found myself underlining passages to revisit her world and evoke the feelings again.

Qui Qui - to you, your mom, your Abuela, and all the Perez women: I see you and hear you. You said: “Say anything.” You said it all.

Jana

A compelling memoir
In this memoir, the author reflects on the contrast and difficulties involved in being part of the two languages and two cultures of her divorced parents – the large, noisy family of her Puerto Rican mother and the culture of her white, Jewish, hippie father, who lives on a farm in a Philadelphia Main Line suburb with his new family.

She deals with the effect of Aids and drugs on her Puerto Rican relatives, as well as the privilege that comes to her due to her white skin. Her search for how to express herself leads her to explore several creative outlets.

While the book is mostly chronological, there are chapters that seem like essays inserted into the narrative. Most of the imagery is very vivid, but especially in the beginning there are some images that seem forced or awkward.

All in all, a very interesting and compelling memoir about a girl caught between two cultures and trying to find her place in the world.

Juliana

the years in the making
My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes is a rich and complex text. A memoir written at the age of forty to record the years of learning that went into forging her identity, an identity including the multitudes in the Perez family. These are the years that went into finding the language that would do justice to her family’s stories, to her story.
It is growing up in her mother’s Hispanic family, more and more estranged in time from her father’s white one, that immerses Qui Qui into the family’s traditions and the rich Puerto Rican culture. Observing and helping out mom with her activism for Latina women, being present for the many family get-togethers at her Abuela’s, reading English classics but also books offered by her mom about Puerto Rican culture, listening to both Western classical music and music by Latino artists, learning about her family history of health struggles due to poverty and abuse (such as the birth control methods which had affected Puerto Rican women including her Abuela in the 50’s) or prejudice and silence (the AIDS cases in her family), Quiara Alegría Hudes paints the portrait of a young age, adolescence as well as young womanhood marked by strong, loving, feisty, sometimes ailing Perez women and a few men related to them, whose battles, victories and losses in North Philly all come together and to light under the pen of the one of them who made it to Yale and then to Brown. The cultures in which she lives reveal themselves in ways that Quiara Alegría Hudes learns to understand, make her own and then unleash with toppling force into the world, including the language of music which, like any language, says more to those with background and instruction in it.
This book cannot be gulped, it needs to be chewed and ruminated.

...1 more reader reviews

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More Information

A Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright tells her lyrical story of coming of age against the backdrop of an ailing Philadelphia barrio, with her sprawling Puerto Rican family as a collective muse.

Those assigned this book will receive a print copy by mail.
The discussion forum for this book will be open from Jan 8 to about Feb 22.

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