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Spirits of the Ordinary: A Tale of Casas Grandes

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  102 ratings  ·  19 reviews
This “strong and finely rendered book” (Larry McMurtry) takes us to the Mexican-American border in the 1870s, conjuring up a magical tale of faith, gold, and family passions that “echoes the style of Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel” (Washington Post Book World). Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award.

A spectacular tapestry of folklore, spiritu
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 21st 1998 by Mariner Books (first published 1996)
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3.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  102 ratings  ·  19 reviews

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Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Because of the comparisons to The House of the Spirits and like Like Water for Chocolate in the blurb, one can not help compare, however if anything, this book reminds me more of The Hummingbird's Daughter. Unfortunately it does not measure up to any of theses great novels. I enjoyed it, but felt the story was too fragmented. The combination of Jewish Mysticism, along with Catholicism and indigenous Mexican beliefs was the best part of the novel and made it unique. However the story jumped aroun ...more
I loved this book. Rich with biblical themes and Mexican history, it has a poetic simplicity that is engrossing. I didn't want it to end. Thankfully there is a sequel.
Zoe Brooks
Apr 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: magic-realism
This book is one of a number of novels which followed on in the wake of One Hundred Years of Solitude and the Latin American magic realism boom. This book is not a simple Marquez or Allende wannabe. Unusually it combines Jewish mysticism with the dual belief systems of the indigenous peoples and their Catholic Spanish overlords.

Kathleen Alcala, although a US citizen, comes from a Mexican family and regularly stayed in the area she writes about as a child. This gives the book great authenticity
Octavia Cade
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this! It has a perfectly lovely length, too, whereas a lot of the more famous examples of Latin American magical realism go on far too long for my tastes. Here, magic and concision are blended extremely well, and I liked the fragmentary nature of it, and the broad focus on a number of different characters, some of whom are only tangentially connected to the main story. There's also an interesting sort of fusion going on with the religious influences here, which helps I think to ...more
This was good, but something about the beginning and ending felt disconnected to me. I enjoyed the crossing of religions and culture, and the simple pacing, but sometimes I felt the author was telling me what to think, instead of allowing me to make connections, and perhaps that's why I felt disjointed from the characters and plot.
Meri Castro
May 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Una manera amena y cálida de viajar a fines de siglo XIX a la frontera de México.
This was a lovely book - it flowed nicely, it was an enjoyable read. My only major problem with it is that it didn't leave much of an impression on me. It's been all of a day, and I already feel like I'm starting to forget things about it.

There were some issues I had with its narrative, but to talk about it would pretty much require revealing spoilers, so... (view spoiler)
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Here's what you need to know about Kathllen Alcala's "Spirit of the Ordinariness": At the turn of the 19th century, a disoriented and disconnected Mexican leaves his beautiful wife and family in Saltillo for the hills. Zacarias prefers a life of struggle on the trails to a life of security at home. Of course, he's weird. Certainly he is out of his mind, and no one fathoms what is his problem. After all he is a Mexican Jew!

Kathllen Alcala may have special insight in writing this tale. It seems t
Erika Schmid
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
What? No, seriously, do you ever read a book and then wonder what the point of it was or if you missed it. I feel like I missed the point of this book. Honestly, there was so much going on and too much was crammed into just a few pages. This would be better as something far bigger and in depth than what it came to be.

Revolving around the Caravals family, each member seems to have something going for them. Julio is a Jew who practices mystical alchemy. His wife, Mariana, is mute because she was
Aug 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a lovely magical realism book set along the Mexican-American border in the late nineteenth century. The story doesn't follow any one character in particular; it's more a tale of an extended family and their struggles with obsession. To me it really echoed One Hundred Years of Solitude, with that same languid feeling and sprawling nature of the story.

Zacarius is monofocused on the search for gold in the mountains. His father Julio searches through the Kabbalah to find God's perfect order
Jul 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really nice story of a family along the Texas/Mexico border around the time of the revolution. There are many main characters, but the most 'main' character seems to be Zacarias. Zacarias is born to Jewish parents and must keep his religion a secret. He regularly leaves his wife and children to go hunt for gold in the rivers and surrounding areas. He goes through a transformation along this journey. This story is mostly about the blending of different cultures and religions in this par ...more
Judy King
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Well how wonderful was that! Sigh. I felt as I've been visiting with some of my old friends and that the characters in this book are out there mingling with those from The Hummingbird's Daughter, Like Water for Chocolate and Rain of Gold. Like Luis Urrea, Laura Esquivel and Victor Villasenor, Kathleen Alcala is a master storyteller sharing a bit of the country's history along with a richly complicated genealogy, a setting that gallops north and south across deserts and mountains and more than a ...more
I enjoyed it, but I think I've enjoyed some of the other Latin America magical realism novels a little better.

House of the Spirits and Bless Me, Ultima just seemed to have so much more depth to them. Then you get to things like Mariana's muteness which just seems too similar to Clara's muteness for it not to seem at least a little derivative.

Though it does deal with Jewish Mysticism rather than Catholic Mysticism, which is a drastic change.
S Roberta
Apr 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
Not quite sure why the gringo photographer was given a whole chapter. Came to the conclusion that the author is into cross-dressing. Book seemed disjointed although some characters were interesting. I wish she had focused on just one character throughout.
Mar 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Beautiful plot and imagery. However, the characters fell flat and the plotlines amongst them seemed to end abruptly. I wanted more magical realism. Average.
Jul 21, 2011 rated it liked it
It was good of its kind. I prefer books with a more coherent storyline, although there was something interesting in the "mystical" dreams.
Carolyn thompson hammack
the story was entertaining, it took me to mexico.
Oct 31, 2009 rated it liked it
Alcala fictionalizes tales of her ancestors in Mexico. There are elements of magical realism reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez but she doesn't measure up to him (not that many do).
Michelle Muenzler
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Mar 17, 2017
Alyson Caverson
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May 09, 2011
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Sep 07, 2008
Maura Lentini
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Feb 07, 2019
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Jul 29, 2008
rated it it was ok
Jul 25, 2018
Maria Sanchez
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Jan 18, 2017
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Feb 08, 2015
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Feb 17, 2013
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Oct 31, 2008
Anna Meghan
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Aug 08, 2011
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Nov 13, 2016
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Endicott Mythic F...: This topic has been closed to new comments. Spirits of the Ordinary - who's reading? 13 15 Oct 14, 2013 05:22PM  
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Kathleen Alcalá (born 29 August 1954) is the author of a short-story collection, three novels set in the American Southwest and nineteenth-century Mexico, and a collection of essays. She teaches creative writing at workshops and programs in Washington state and elsewhere, including Seattle University, the University of New Mexico and Richard Hugo House. Alcalá is also a co-founder of and contribut ...more