Archive | 10:33 AM

Book Review: Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano (4/5)

4 Apr

I bought this book years ago. My friends and I were on a ‘book crawl’ of Ann Arbor and I was in Literati, telling myself I wasn’t going to buy any more books, but then I saw this one. The cover is gorgeous and the blend of Spanish in the text interested me. I was hooked and bought it. Unfortunately, due to the number of books I buy, it was a while before I picked it up but I wanted to treat myself after a long book to something that looked fun.

Cover image via Goodreads

Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano

Summary from Goodreads:

In Loteria, the spellbinding literary debut by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a young girl tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Latin American game of chance. With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, she retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of loteria cards. Each of the cards’ colorful images–mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars–sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

This book was a lot less ‘fun’ than I hoped for, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good. I don’t read summaries before I read books because if I’d read that one, I would have known how sad this book was going to be. Young Luz has had a rough life and her lotería cards are one of the happy memories she has. She likes to use the cards to remind her of her life because they’ve become such an intricate part, a weekly ritual formed when her family was happy and whole. Zambrano reveals the story slowly and I enjoyed learning about Luz’s story a bit at a time. She would flash from a happy memory to a moving one and back, using the cards to tell her tale.

Writing a child is hard and I think Zambrano did it well. There were one or two times when she seemed older than her age and there as a few mentions of how she was very mature, more so than the teenagers sometimes. I thought this was a bit unbelievable, but made writing her easier for Zambrano. I thought the other characters were very believable, especially Tencha.

I think Mama was my favorite character. This sounds terrible because she’s not really a hero in the book. The way Zambrano writes her, you feel bad for her but you also know she’s not doing the right things all the time. I felt bad for her more than anything. I saw her as someone who’s hurt, has no one to turn to, and who loves her children. It’s hard to see, but that’s what stuck out to me. Not knowing a lot about her made her really intriguing.

There weren’t any life experiences I shared with these characters. The thing I related to most was when they described spending time with the Silva’s after mass. When I was studying in Mexico, we would go to Abuela’s house a few times a week just to be with the family and hang out in her courtyard to eat and be with the family. We would cook and eat and sleep there because it’s where the family was and everyone was comfortable there. It was so much fun and I really miss that.

Mario Alberto Zambrano
Image via The Village Voice

I liked finally finding out what happened to Estrella. I’m not saying it was a good thing, but my opinion of Papi was very tainted by things I thought he did and clearing the air of that made the rest of the book easier to enjoy. It sounds like a weird favorite part, I’ll admit.

I didn’t enjoy the end of this story. It didn’t seem to really move anywhere. I think it’s supposed to be hopeful, like Luz and her father might reconnect, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as her giving up on her mother and staying put. The past had been cleared up, we knew how Luz got to where she was, but I didn’t know where she was going.


I think family had a very different meaning for Luz than it would for most people. For a time, the Silva’s were like family. Then she couldn’t trust her cousins in Mexico. Her immediate family was loud and yelled and, after a time, began to shrink. She had to find who she would trust and she’s placed that trust in her father. She was tested a lot and had to continue to decide how to justify her love for her father, the only family she has left.

Writer’s Takeaway: In the interview with Zambrano at the end, he talks about how the architecture of books fascinate him and I love the architecture of this story. The short stories made it easy to read many at a time and fly through the story. I liked basing the story on the lotería cards. I wondered if there was an order or if Zambrano put them in an order to drive his story. I really want to play the game now.

I enjoyed this book a lot and it was a fun, quick read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.


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Related Posts:
Lotería: A Novel – Mario Alberto Zambrano | Una Vita Vagabonda
Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano | Read More
An Interview with Mario Alberto Zambrano | Read to Write Stories