PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Lorraine López, author of the critically acclaimed The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters, has a talent for crafting characters so fleshed out that they could be your sister, your neighbor, your best friend. The Realm of Hungry Spirits introduces Marina Lucero to the list of fierce Latina heroines whom López has brought to life, and Marina’s humor and begrudging kindness are what make her so very unforgettable.
Marina has one goal, and it is for peace—peace of mind and peace in her house. The daughter of a meditating, womanizing father and a mother who deserted her for a Carmelite convent, Marina feels a close connection to the spiritual realm, but for some reason it eludes her. It doesn’t help that her little home is the go-to for the brokenhearted, the beaten and the world-weary men and women of the San Fernando Valley. She’s Marina, not “Maria” and not some kind of spiritual guide, but she finds it nearly impossible to keep people out of her house. In a way, Marina fails in her search for a spiritual center, instead discovering what she really believes in: the lives of others.
The characters in The Realm of Hungry Spirits, while permanently connected to one another, battle tooth and nail over just about everything: women against machismo, family against family. Each person attempts to apply his or her own solutions, and the book’s religious and spiritual wingspan is seemingly unlimited, touching on Buddhism, Christianity and Latino mythology reminiscent of stories by Sandra Cisneros. Were it not for López’s humor in the face of unflinching pain and humanity, the novel could come across as angry—or even hopeless. Fortunately, Marina’s world, despite all its flaws and chaos, is as tight as a woven water basket, and it not only gives new life to the broken but also feeds her own hungry spirit.