Friday, December 3, 2010

Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush - Luis Alberto Urrea


I was persuaded to order yet another graphic novel (my personal brand of crack-cocaine these days) from the library at the encouragement of Jen (Devourer of Books) as part of her spotlight on Chicago authors. I found it waiting for me when I returned from Washington DC, and read it on a roadtrip up to Jacksonville. Truth be told, it will take me longer to write this review that it took me to read the book! You've got to love graphic novels that way.

Synopsis: The author reminisces on his life in a small town in Mexico called El Rosario, a typical community where old women gossip, where folklore define the town's history, and young boys dream of true love.

And it is also the home of "The Graffiti King of Mexico", Mr. Mendoza. For thirty years, the elusive Mr. Mendoza creeps around town with his paintbrush, decorating walls and other objects with declaration of morality and prophetic statements. The townsfolk don't so much like being judged however.

Finally, in his last act of artistic flourish, Mr. Mendoza stands at the center of town, and paints a stairway into the sky, and disappears forever.

My thoughts: I finished this book scratching my head. The story confused me. First, I thought Mr. Mendoza was a bit of a cad, going around and criticizing others for their immoral acts (the author got caught peeping at skinny-dipping girls, and got his rear-end graffiti'd). Then he paints a stairway into the sky and escapes? What? Then I figured I took the story too literally. I'm sure if I were smarter, I would easily spot Mr. Mendoza as a metaphor for something. The town's conscience? God? A fallen angel?

But the artwork! Oh the artwork! I was mesmerized with it. Unfortunately I could not find much online to display the beauty of the illustrations (the cover is my favorite), but here is one example:

















There are some local Hispanic artists here in town originally from Puerto Rico that have created paintings and prints with a similar feel, and every time I see it I have to stop and stare. It is rich, and vibrant, and you can almost feel and smell the humidity and the rum and the rhythm of the drum and guitar. Looking at these illustrations almost made me want to close my eyes and start swaying to the beat.

So leave your analytic, literal panties in your dresser today and pick up this quick, atmospheric read. If you can figure out the message, let me know, but prepare your eyes for a little treat.

3.5 out of 5 stars





16 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

A stairway in the sky? I think I may have mentioned that I like books to be believable a few times recently ;-) Sounds like this isn't one I should be rushing to buy. I do love the illustrations though :-)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow, that cover is amazing. I think I would definitely flip through this to see the art, even if I didn't read it!

Julie P. said...

This book does look gorgeous. I might just have to check it out.

bermudaonion said...

The illustrations do look beautiful and I love Luis Alberto Urrea, but they metaphors would probably be lost on me too.

Zibilee said...

The illustrations are indeed wonderful, and I would like to give this book a try to see if I could figure out the message as well. Thanks for putting this book on my radar!

Jen - devourer of books said...

I think you hit it right on the head with Mr. Mendoza as the town's conscience. Of course, it is magical realism as well, so that's not for everyone.

Darlene said...

I do love the illustrations in these graphic novels but they just aren't something I can get into.

marthalama said...

Wow, I'm not a big reader of graphic novels but this one looks very cool. The cover is just amazing. I'll have to look for this book.

Anna said...

Not sure I'd read this one, but the artwork does look amazing.

Melissa M said...

I still am not really into the graphic novels, but maybe I should be with as little reading time as I have these days. At least that way I could finish more than one book a month!

Trisha said...

I love that cover, and the frames you've provided look gorgeous!

Andreea said...

I've never read a graphic novel before but I may try in the near future. The illustrations are wonderful, however I agree with the others and I don't think that this one would be for me. However, thanks for sharing your honest thoughts with us!

Alice Teh said...

I'm a very visual person and I like the look of this one, never mind the confusing story. I hardly read graphic novels because of price factor (really costly over here).

Iliana said...

Ah this sounds like Mr. Urrea was brining in some magical realism to the story! :)

I like that and I've really enjoyed one of his novels so on my list it goes! I actually had the chance to meet him at a book festival several years ago and he was so friendly and just a real treat to hear him speak about Mexico, writing and his work.

Kathleen said...

I love those last sentences of your review! So Sandy of you to say that! I gotta love it!

Beth F said...

I'll think about this one. The artwork is beautiful but I'm not sure I want to end up scratching my head.