Mario Alberto Zambrano’s excellent first novel, Lotería, isn’t being marketed by HarperCollins as a book about Houston. In fact, it doesn’t contain the word at all. Yet the troubled family at the center of this violent, poignant story—which is getting some buzz in the publishing world—lives on TC Jester in Magnolia Park (improbably, since TC Jester runs through Northwest Houston and Magnolia Park is in the East End).
Other details fill in the setting. The novel’s narrator, 11-year-old Luz María Castillo, faces the possibility of being sent to Casa de Esperanza, the Houston home for children in crisis. She also visits the Medical Center “near the zoo off highway 59,” and speaks of a newspaper known simply as the Chronicle.
Zambrano’s studied avoidance of the word had already put us on edge. Then we noticed that the model-handsome 36-year-old, a newly minted graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and former ballet dancer who’s lived in Israel, Holland, Germany, Spain, and Japan, mentions all those countries on his About the Author page, but not Houstonia. Meanwhile, LinkedIn lists his home base as Spring. We decided it was time to get in touch with Mr. Zambrano. He received our email while on holiday in Greece.
He was very forthcoming about his Houston past—Zambrano grew up near Channelview and attended HSPVA. His sister presently resides in Spring, and his grandparents lived in Denver Harbor, close to Magnolia Park. Not only is Zambrano planning to move back here to concentrate on his writing, he’s planning to build his own house in Montgomery County.
So why the ixnay on the ouston-Hay? “There were a few drafts that explicitly stated the story was taking place in Houston,” Zambrano replied. “But after some thought, I wanted to open it up and delocalize it so that other readers wouldn’t feel alienated.… In this way, it could be a story set in any southern city of America where there’s a Mexican community.”
Hmm. We guess we buy that explanation. We guess.