Quiara Alegría Hudes was the sharp-eyed girl on the stairs while her family danced in her grandmother’s tight North Philly kitchen. She was awed by her aunts and uncles and cousins, but haunted by the secrets of the family and the unspoken, untold stories of the barrio–even as she tried to find her own voice in the sea of language around her, written and spoken, English and Spanish, bodies and books, Western art and sacred altars. Her family became her private pantheon, a gathering circle of powerful orisha-like women with tragic real-world wounds, and she vowed to tell their stories–but first she’d have to get off the stairs and join the dance. She’d have to find her language.
Weaving together Hudes’s love of books with the stories of her family, the lessons of North Philly with those of Yale, this is an inspired exploration of home, memory, and belonging–narrated by an obsessed girl who fought to become an artist so she could capture the world she loved in all its wild and delicate beauty.
A big thank you to Matt Clacher and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I loved everything about this book. It isn’t often that a work of non-fiction grabs me as firmly as a novel, but this memoir is absolutely stunning, and I was fully immersed in Hudes’ story. It is written with openness and honesty, but also, entirely unsurprisingly, with enormous artistry, of the very best kind, because it is subtle and not distracting. The narrative flows seemingly effortlessly, and yet it is carefully woven, creating a sense of progression and discovery that is bound up with Quiara’s journey and her attempts to find a language of her own. It is so clever and meta it hurts, but Hudes’ fearsome intellect is coupled with an incredible story-telling ability that makes this a hugely entertaining book as well as an intelligent and thought-provoking one.
This memoir is so insightful on the struggle to find a voice, to find a language that expresses our true selves in a way that feels authentic. It sent my mind spinning down all sorts of avenues – I have a special fondness for books with Spanish scattered in the text, as I used to be fluent, and learning and speaking it regularly actually changed my thought processes (I miss it so much!). But this isn’t simply about speaking Spanglish or straddling different cultures – this is about a much deeper search for self-expression, when the ‘self’ contains within it all the multitudes of histories and ancestors and stories and new beginnings and false starts and EVERYTHING that makes us US.
The very best books seem to distil all of life – its joys and sorrows, struggles and celebrations, into a kind of heady cocktail, and that is what reading My Broken Language is like – getting drunk on words, imbibing the fizzing, powerful energy of the Perez women, their gods, their messy lives, their fierce love for each other. This book is by turns achingly cool, self-aware, awe-inspiring, curious, sad, funny – it is both a tribute and a testament, a poignant examination of the communal and a deep-dive into a fascinating individual mind. I know this is a book I will be returning to, and I can’t recommend it enough.
My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes is published by William Collins and is available to purchase here.