It’s All in the Cards   Leave a comment


Eleven-year-old Luz Maria Costilla has a gut-wrenching way of storytelling. She’s a lot like Scout, daughter of Atticus Finch. Unfortunately, Luz’s father is nothing like Harper Lee’s heroic character. Nonetheless, in Mario Alberto Zambrano’s debut novel, Loteria,  Luz is full of grit and independence.

Loteria is a game of chance, popular in Mexico, designed around cards each of which features an image rather than a number. The images, through riddles, are called out by the game’s dealer. The novel of the same name is built around the cards as Luz recounts the disintegration of her family and how she became a ward of the state of California. It’s rich with humor, sorrow and vivid imagery thanks to the game. The irony is that Luz isn’t talking; she has a journal and the cards to speak for her. Some knowledge of Spanish is helpful.

Luz loves her father. She sees past his many faults: he’s violent, he drinks, and has questionable parenting skills. In his own way, he loves his wife, his elder daughter Estrella and Luz. A few other relatives come in and out of the narrative, but the focus is on this nuclear family. For the El Borracho card, Luz recounts, “When Papi sang in the backyard I’d dance to whatever song he sang. He’d be a little drunk under the light of the porch, and for every four sips he took, I took one.” Not every card is as obvious in its intent, but as Luz puts them together they come to life.

Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2013
270 pages


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