Big Angel de la Cruz will be dead soon.
Bone cancer will take his life. But before he dies, the powerful, near-mythic patriarch of the family has called everyone together for one final, blow-out birthday party. Before the party arrives though, Angel’s mother, Mama América dies, leading to a long, family-filled, ceremonial weekend. Funeral one day, party the next.
Family members from all walks gather in San Diego to celebrate the lives of Big Angel and Mama América. They’ll retell their legendary family stories, reveal each other’s secrets, and offer their respect to Big Angel like a Mexican-American Godfather. The de la Cruzes are a big clan, brothers, sisters, kids, and grand kids, all complex and real.
Through flashbacks and remembrances, The House of Broken Angels tracks the de la Cruze story from his Big Angel’s youth in La Paz, Mexico under the chaotic influence of his father Don Antonio, to his arrival in California as a hard working man, determined to build a better life for himself and his family. Along the way, we meet that family and learn their stories as well. His beloved wife Perla, mourning her husband before he passes; Minnie, the daughter destined to take Big Angel’s place a head of the family; La Gloriosa, the aging beauty; Lalo, the veteran son considering the worst in a lifetime of bad decisions. Prominent among the guests is Big Angel’s half brother, Little Angel, who shares a father with his siblings but, because of his separate upbringing, is unsure of his place within the family.
Big Angel’s story is often hard and heartbreaking, depicting the realistic hardships that come along with immigration and class status in America. But the de la Cruzes overcome through a focus on resilience, love, and family.
“What was your favorite part?” she said.
“Of the party?”
“No, Flaco. Of our life.”
He responded immediately. “Everything.”
She thought about it. “Even the bad?”
“There were no bad times,” he said. “As long as you were there.”
It sounds like a sad story, I guess. But Luis Alberto Urrea’s writing adds a funny, manic, and poetic quality to the family that’s hard to feel sad about.