Excerpt from The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The House of Broken Angels

by Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea X
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 336 pages
    Mar 2019, 368 pages


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"Very good," she said.

"I used to look better."

"You were always handsome."

"Tie my tie."

"Stop wiggling."

He knew his siblings gossiped behind his back, of course. Big Angel wants to be a gringo, they said in their richly rewarding family sessions of tijereando, the ancient Mexican art of scissoring people. He knew this without anyone telling him. He thinks he's better than all of us.

"I am better than you."

"Excuse me?" Perla said.

He waved his hand.

Big Angel simply aimed to show the Americans something. His family was welcome to observe and learn if they wanted to.

A 43mm Invicta Dragon Lupah watch perched massively on his wrist with its magnifying glass crystal, as if he were some bomber pilot. It reminded the bosses that he was perpetually on time—American time. Minnie had bought it for him off a cable TV watch-shopping show. It was one of her 2:00 a.m. insomnia gifts. They were all prone to sleepless nights.

Now his watch circled his wrist freely like a collar too big for its dog. He watched Minnie spray her explosion of dark hair. She smiled at him in the mirror.

My beautiful daughter. We have good, strong blood. But I don't like the men she sees.

He winked at her. Only Big Angel could wink and denote wisdom. He tapped his Lupah.

He wasn't legendary only for his punctuality; he also had been the head of the computing division for the gas and electric company. He was proud that the company was so famous there had been a rock band in the '60s with the same name: Pacific Gas and Electric. He was pretty sure he could sing better than they could. Just not rock music, which everybody knew wasn't music at all. Hairy fairies in tight velvet pants and girls' shirts. Except Tom Jones. Ese sí era todo un hombre.

At his office desktop, he could access the records of every San Diegan, as well as organize and maintain the activities of all employees and executives in the network. Big Angel could see how often, for example, people in every neighborhood turned on their stoves to cook. The rich bastards in La Jolla and Del Mar used less gas than the rabble in the southside or Barrio Logan. Or his neighborhood, close to the border—Lomas Doradas. Judging from his gas and electric records, his Perla cooked about twelve hours out of every day. She had just discovered Kentucky Fried Chicken, though, and was starting to slack off a bit.

Computers weren't the point for Big Angel. He didn't even like computers. A Mexican doing what these rich Americanos couldn't do was the point. Like his father before him, with a piano, playing Ray Conniff into the night and stealing their wives right out from under their noses.

"I saw everybody's secrets," he called.

"Muy bien!" his wife shouted.

Real people cooked. He could see the use-rate digits every day. Street by street if he had the time. That was the theory he concocted: rich people must be ordering deliveries or eating cold food or going to fancy restaurants that cost as much as a sofa. Mexicans liked food hot, home cooked, and lots of it. Though for some reason his family had recently developed an addiction to pancakes. It must have come from their father, who called them "hotcakes" in Spanish: los jo-kekis, los pan-kekis. Legend had it that pancakes were the first American food he ever ate. Those and chop suey.

Many of Big Angel's executive colleagues thought Mexicans pushed brooms or scrubbed the restrooms, maybe wore hard hats in the field. He had done all these things. But a Mexican computer center director and cyber-systems manager was some sort of anathema that defied explanation and demanded whispered quorums deducing the impact of such upheavals.

Big Angel was aware of it all. He wasn't interested in affirmative action. He hadn't asked for help. His family had never accepted government checks or cheese or those big silver cans of federal peanut butter. He had never seen a food stamp. He wasn't some peasant holding his straw hat in worried hands, bowing to some master. He was Emiliano Zapata. He wasn't living on his knees. In his mind, he was showing his long-dead father his own worth as a son. His name tag said HOLA! instead of HELLO!

Excerpted from The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. Copyright © 2018 by Luis Alberto Urrea. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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