Friday, August 19, 2011

Audio Book Review: The Madonnas of Echo Park

'The Madonnas of Echo Park'
Author: Brando Skyhorse

Format: Audio CD
Published: Simon & Schuster Audio; June 2010
Narrators: Robert Ramirez, Luis Moreno, Alma Cuervo, Alyssa Bresnaham, Jonathan Davis, Tony Chiroldes, Florencia Lozano, and Annie Henk
Genre: Literary fiction
Rating: A
Source: Personal copy

Synopsis: The facts may be invented, but the total portrait of a shifting city is alarmingly realistic. Giving voice to the varied vignettes are eight different narrators who are all possessed of the characters' similar sorrows, awes, and outrages. Their stories can stand alone, but are much more deeply poignant when taken together. We have Aurora, who the bullet barely missed, and her mother, a maid in a house that is already clean. We have the crazy Coat Queen, who thinks she's seen the Virgin Mary, and the mysterious Jesus, who thinks he is The Lord. We have the illegal day laborer, who is asked to cover up one murder, and the citizen bus driver, who is asked to reveal another murder.
Throughout this remarkably astute observation of urban decay, the cacophony of voices piles up into a clear and singular tone of struggle. They struggle for their very lives; they struggle to find forgiveness for crimes long since past; they struggle to find meaning in the ever-changing storefronts and ever-shifting boundaries of a city divided by race and wealth. Each narrator in turn steps up to deliver the sad reports, the astonishing connections, and the overdue diatribes. The end result is a debut novel that manages to uncover some glints of optimism in its unflinching portrayal of Mexican life in The City of Angels.
My Take: I am not someone who normally enjoys audio books read by multiple narrators but I picked this one up on a whim after seeing some positive reviews of the book around the blogosphere and thinking that I might enjoy it. I am so happy I did as each narrator lent so much character to their individual part and it was the perfect way to illuminate this story.
Set in Echo Park, an historically Hispanic part of Los Angeles, now becoming gentrified, I found myself nodding my head as I live in the Mission which is the historically Hispanic part of San Francisco, now becoming gentrified (and we are one of the gentrifiers). It's interesting to have a front row view to a city changing because it does and doesn't change in so many ways. People come and go, store fronts, restaurants, and bars come and go, but often the people who have grown up and made their life here historically stay and those who come in and buy or rent property to gentrify it also come and go so yes the makeup of a neighbor shifts but much also stays the same.
The Madonnas of Echo Park was both a beautiful and incredibly sad story. The vignettes were all different, yet interwoven. Each person's story was unique and to go into them individually would make this an incredibly long review. You would meet future and past characters that show up in other vignettes. The stories show the history of that person's story in the fabric of Los Angeles, how they have much city and family pride but often struggle to communicate it. For example, when a story is told from the mother's point of view you feel as through the teenage daughter is ungrateful for how far her mother has come and everything she is giving up to give her daughter a better life. Yet, when the story is told from the daughter's point of view you understand how embarrassed she is in front of her friends because of her differences. The stories are authentic, and while they aren't mine, I felt for these characters and wanted them to survive and have an easier life. I wholeheartedly recommend the audio version of this fantastic novel to anyone!
Cover Lust: I think it's beautiful. An old fashioned quilt that reflects modern dancing and dress!


  1. Multiple narrators...I find that very interesting and I would love to hear it. But I might just get annoyed ;)

  2. I started this on my Kindle and then put it aside. Something about the writing holds me back.

  3. I'm not usually a fain of multiple narrators either, but I'll have to lookf for this one since you liked it so much.
    I like your take on gentrified areas.

  4. Like Ti I also started this one and put it aside. I'm wondering if it would be different to listen to it though... might try that!

  5. WOnderful review! The audio sounds terrific but I already have a copy of this book. I must find some time to read it! I enjoy books that are a series of vignettes especially when they are also interwoven. I love that you found the characters authentic and felt for them.
    You really piqued my interest in this book! Thank you!

  6. This has been on my TBR list for far too long. I really have to get to it this autumn! Thanks for the review!

  7. I read this book based on reviews and thought it was very interesting. It follows several characters and can get a bit confusing, but you are able to place the characters and the time based on the genre of music they listen to, which was very creative. A really enjoyable story with excellent narration. I highly recommend it.

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