Friday, September 5, 2014

"Loteria" by Mario Alberto Zambrano

You don't need a set of Loteria cards to tell you family influences are decisive and, in the worst cases, fatal.

Mario Alberto Zambrano's “Loteria” is a novel of dark family drama rooted in a father's alcoholism.

The family's violent unraveling is recounted by 11-year old Luz Castillo to a diary through which she speaks to God the Father.

She uses cards from the Mexican bingo game, Loteria, to help her work through the drama that is now past.

Luz is being held in a kind of juvenile detention center. Her presence there is fallout from something that has happened at home which will take her the whole novel to reveal.

The book itself is a kind of “object d'art” with representations from the game featured throughout. Even the backs of the cards are reproduced on the flip side of the book page.

Luz uses the Loteria to launch the different subjects she entertains in each chapter. At times the connections between the image on the card and her personal story are clear, others not so much, although second and third readings perhaps reveal a more detailed weaving.

“Loteria” is mostly episodic. The path to something truly terrible happening in Luz's family is forseeable and without many twists or turns. Many of the chapters represent no advance in the narrative, rather tarry to color it and add depth.

These chapters are laced with bits of Mexican and Mexican-American culture, the text peppered with Spanish of the south-of-the-border kind, foodstuffs and rituals that are not new to contemporary literature at this late date.

Luz's story is not all bad, she can reminisce about the interplay between nuclear and extended family members and these can be poignant given that the reader already knows something terrible involving death and detention has transpired.

“Loteria” may not move heaven and earth with the scale of its story, but it may move you with its curious proposition and poetic presentation.