Lotería is a Mexican game that features a deck of 54 image cards. This game - both visually and conceptually - forms the structure for Mario Alberto Zambrano's eponymous debut novel. The book itself is solid and looks like a deck of cards; each of the 53 chapters is proceeded by an image of a card. The story centers on Luz, an 11-year-old Mexican-American girl who is in state custody (a foster home? juvie? I couldn't quite pin down where she was). The story unspools slowly - Luz uses each card as a jumping-off point for a different memory. The violence of her father comes out, the fact that her sister is in the ICU, and that her mother is missing.
In an interview with NPR, Mario Alberto Zambrano says:
"There's a lot of who I was as a young boy in Luz, in terms of questioning God and also my questions on identity — whether I was American or whether I was Mexican. But then there was something in the terms of, like, I've never been in an abusive family and I don't, I can't really comprehend what it would really be like. But I tried to take on and empathize with her so much that I think when her voice arrived, from that moment onward I was just sort of tuning into her voice."
Zambrano deals deftly with Mexican-American identity and a young girl's relationship with religion. He weaves in Spanish words and slang, and leaves them untranslated, so if you are very unfamiliar with Spanish, this may not be the book for you. However, I thought this Spanglish type of writing added to the uniqueness of the story and felt authentic to the narrator. It was a very quick read (the chapters were often under 3 pages), but quickly sucked you in as it turned into a mystery of why Luz ended up where she is (I won't spoil you!). Overall, a worthwhile read.