Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life

Available in hardcover and paperback

Winner 1999 American Book Award

Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an Anglo mother from Staten Island, Urrea moved to San Diego when he was three. His childhood was a mix of opposites, a clash of cultures and languages. In prose that seethes with energy and crackles with dark humor, Urrea tells a story that is both troubling and wildly entertaining. Urrea endured violence and fear in the black and Mexican barrio of his youth. But the true battlefield was inside his home, where his parents waged daily war over their son's ethnicity. "You are not a Mexican!" his mother once screamed at him. "Why can't you be called Louis instead of Luis?" He suffers disease and abuse and he learns brutal lessons about machismo. But there are gentler moments as well: a simple interlude with his father, sitting on the back of a bakery truck; witnessing the ultimate gesture of tenderness between the godparents who taught him the magical power of love. "I am nobody's son. I am everybody's brother," writes Urrea. His story is unique, but it is not unlike thousands of other stories being played out across the United States, stories of other Americans who have waged war—both in the political arena and in their own homes—to claim their own personal and cultural identity. It is a story of what it means to belong to a nation that is sometimes painfully multicultural, where even the languageboth separates and unites us. Brutally honest and deeply moving, Nobody's Son is a testament to the borders that divide us all.


From Luis

About Nobody's Son

Ouch.  Did I really tell you all of that?

                Some of the story is in the Wandering Time note on the website.  Suffice it to say that it was time to close out the Tijuana Trilogy.  I had told everyone else’s stories in Across the Wire and in By the Lake of Sleeping Children.  Now it was time for my won story, my own family’s little tale of damnation and longing for redemption.  There are, after all, two sides of every border.

                I like this little monster.  It has three of my favorite bits of non-fiction writing in it.  “Tijuana Wonderland,” “Sanctuary,” and “Leaving Shelltown.”  I stand beside those three—wow, I almost called them songs!  I always really wanted to be a rock star, let’s just face it.  All right, why not:  I stand beside those three songs and always will.

                I also felt that part of my urge, in all the writing I do, is to create a literature of witness.  It is one thing to witness others.  That’s why it’s so easy to write border books.  Even true crime books.  Somebody else does the suffering for you.  I hate border books that feel like visits to the zoo.  Outsiders, carpetbaggers, spying on the festive natives.  Where’s the love, cabrones?  Where is the poetry?  All right, rant over.

                It is another thing to witness yourself.  I felt that hard truths from my own peculiar jaunt through my life would help some unseen, younger nobody’s son or nobody’s daughter.  And I was right.  I have met you now for many years.  Loving you.


Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

Tell us all about your book club!
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.