Book Review: Esperanza by Tommy Tutalo - a fictional novel about illegal immigration and drug cartels

Book Review: Esperanza by Tommy Tutalo

Title: Esperanza

Author: Tommy Tutalo

Publisher: Self-published

Publication date: paperback: August, 29, 2017; e-book: January 2, 2018

Genre: Fiction

Summary: As a young woman, Gabriela illegally crossed into America from Mexico, paying her way by becoming a drug transporter for a crime syndicate that would soon become far-reaching. As a young man, Dante found fame and fortune as an artist, but tumbled far after becoming tangled with crime syndicate Nada Mas. Despite the passage of years, the threads that bind both to Nada Mas prove to be unbreakable. But both manage to find the possibility of redemption, hope, and the American Dream in Gabriela’s young daughter Sarita.

Despite growing up in Southern California and coming into contact with many individuals of Hispanic descent and origin, their cultures are still largely unknown to me. Similarly, I possess only a slim grasp on what illegal immigration might be like, even though it’s likely I’ve crossed paths with more than a few. Since Esperanza deals heavily with illegal immigration and drug cartels, I took the opportunity to review it as an opportunity to learn more.

Esperanza is not the kind of book you can breeze through. It is long and it is dense. It’s not perfectly written, but it is beautiful. Whether or not it accurately details the trials and tribulations of illegal immigrants as well as what life within a drug cartel is like, this is still the kind of book that can and will give a reader pause. This is not an easy read; indeed there are many scenes and chapters that can be difficult to stomach, but I admired how Tutalo didn’t shy away from them and instead painted them with bold, bright colors. So, fair warning, this isn’t an easy book. There’s a lot of weight to it. And it might not always be easy. But I believe this is a worthwhile read.

The Characters: Troubled, But Never Broken

This book primarily follows the lives of Gabriela, an illegal immigrant from Mexico; Dante, a fallen artist; and Sarita, Gabriela’s young daughter. Each were stunningly well-developed, from mannerisms to speech to complexity of character. I loved how troubled they were, yet how willing they were to try to push through. They were each given lengthy back stories that really fleshed them out, that showed the reader where they had come from. Perhaps it could have become cumbersome as they tended to go on and on for chapters, but they added a richness to the story, a depth that would have been lost had they been edited out. I loved how their pasts and presents converged and exploded around them, creating the beautiful story that emerged.

Most of all, I loved that these were characters who were constantly thrown into difficult situations. Their pasts informed their presents, meaning the people in their lives reacted to them in certain ways, and it was always consistent. I often felt bad for them as they never seemed to catch a break, but it also echoed real life as many people never actually seem to catch a break. It’s heartbreaking, but also showed the inner strength and determination of the characters that really gave this book a beautiful message of hope.

The one thing I struggled with was the sheer amount of minor characters. I certainly understand that each of them came into contact with a number of people as they traveled in various circles, went across the country and back, and became tangled into a constantly growing crime syndicate. But so many of the characters were given back stories and I sometimes found it a bit meandering and lost the thread of what the book as a whole was about. It was too easy to become wrapped up in the lives of minor characters, only to have them ripped away as the reader is returned to the story of Gabriela, Dante, and Sarita. Still, I can’t help but appreciate the rich story they added to.

The Setting: Sweepingly Across America and Mexico

This book takes place all across America and in Mexico. The characters traveled to so many different places it was sometimes hard to keep up, but none of them were very well-defined. Instead, many of the locations felt quite generic. A town here, a city there. I appreciated there were some locations with names places, but, in general, I didn’t feel it was necessary to have a defined sense of place.

Instead, I marveled at how the characters set the atmosphere. The way they talked, the way they behaved, made it clear where they were. Gabriela felt different when she was in Mexico from the way she was in various places in America. Dante’s history likewise helped set the stage. But what I really liked was how well this book showcased the tangled web that ties America and Mexico. The illegal goings on keeps the two countries in a tenuous balance, as well as the attempts by law enforcement to keep it in check. Instead of focusing on details, Esperanza focused on the larger picture.

The Plot: A Mother and a Daughter

This is primarily the story of Sarita discovering who her mother really was. About half of the book is focused on Gabriela’s life as she struggled in America and the other half was about Sarita seeking reunification with her mother, who was deported after being abducted by Nada Mas.

The one thing that I both liked and felt confused by was how fluid the timeline was. There are no headings to any of the chapters to indicate leaps either forward or backward in time. It takes a few lines into each chapter to figure out where in time it takes place, especially since there are so many back stories. There are also a number of characters who are followed, so it took some brain power to figure out how they were connected and in what point in time they crossed paths. It was disconcerting at first because it didn’t make a lot of sense, but, by the end, it became surprisingly easy to follow and I loved being able to slot this character or that story into place to complete a full timeline.

I enjoyed the complexity of this story, but there were still a few things I had a hard time swallowing. Since one of the main characters is from Mexico, there’s a decent amount of Spanish in the text, and none of it is translated. Some of the words were familiar to me as a native Southern Californian and there were other pieces I could deduce, but there were still large parts I could not for the life of me figure out without needing a translator. I’m not sure if I missed out on part of the story, but I hope I didn’t. There were also many points where I felt the story was more tell than show. There was an overall lack of sophistication and polish that would have really elevated this story and turned it into something absolutely amazing. As it is, I found it to be quite beautiful, but I still think it has more potential. The last thing that bothered me was that it felt like it was two different stories that were merged together by virtue of having the same characters. As I mentioned, the first half felt like it was Gabriela’s story and the second like Sarita’s, with Gabriela being the character tying them together. It was a little disjointed.

Overall: A Beautiful Thread of Hope

This is a heavy read. It deals with difficult topics. It places characters in difficult and seemingly impossible situations. It sometimes felt insanely bleak. At the same time, there was a beautiful thread of hope woven throughout. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and, boy, is that apparent in every word in this novel! It’s amazing and lovely and brought tears to my eyes once or twice. This book appalled and touched me. The characters were outstanding and my heart felt their stories. Lyrical it may not be, but beautiful it is, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to review Esperanza.

As many of us are currently stuck indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, may I suggest this as a good, lengthy, thought-provoking read that offers a fair amount of travel and insight into part of the American way of life?

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Tommy Tutalo’s Author Website

Tommy Tutalo, author of Esperanza a beautiful novel of illegal immigration and hope

Thank you to the author, Tommy Tutalo, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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