The Realm of Hungry Spirits

A Chicana in search of enlightenment

By Teresa Dovalpage
Published on LatinoLA: October 28, 2011

The Realm of Hungry Spirits

"The Realm of Hungry Spirits" (Grand Central, 2011) is a modern story of a young woman's path toward enlightenment. In this well-written, funny novel by Lorraine L??pez, PEN Faulkner Award finalist and author of "The Gifted Gabald??n Sisters," characters leap off the page and take a life of their own.

Kindhearted Marina offers shelter and food to her sister's former boyfriend, a "tough-loved" nephew and a little dog she names Feo. An elementary school teacher in a spiritual quest, she is determined to put into practice the Dalai Lama's words and follow the example of Mahatma Gandhi. But this becomes a challenging task. Her lazy guests and a former lover who insists on pushing a Santeria ceremony on her test Marina's patience beyond the limits of sainthood and she often ends up unleashing her sharp tongue instead of practicing restrain. But it is difficult to blame her!

In a lighthearted tone, the novel deals with serious issues like the meaning of suffering, religion vs. spirituality and the discovery of family secrets The author skillfully weaves poignant scenes with laugh-until-your-belly-hurts moments. Marina's monologues illuminate not only hers but other character's mindsets. A Santeria babalawo, a grieving mother and the kids in Marina's classroom make up a motley, but compelling crew.

All the characters, from leopard print-wearing Rosaura to the Buddhist-Nudist substitute teacher seem as real as your next-door neighbors. The narrative flows seamlessly toward a clean cut ending, un final super limpio though no Santeria-style limpieza is performed. Will there be a second part, a sequel about Marina's new adventures on the realm of satisfied and happy beings? I certainly hope so.

?íOjal?í que s?¡!

About Teresa Dovalpage:
Teresa Dovalpage is the author of the English-language novel novels A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, A Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010). She has also written and published three Spanish language novels.
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