Bárbara Renaud González, Golondrina, why did you leave me?
Publisher: University of Texas Press
2009, 255 pages, paperback, $25

bÁrbara renaud gonzÁlez’s debut novel, Golondrina, why did you leave me?, is rich in Texas history, family dynamics, and literary aesthetics. González’s words have the power to shake and stir the inner workings of the heart while remaining playful enough to challenge and engage the mind. Golondrina is dedicated to González’s own mother and is introduced as a fictionalized account of her family’s history, focusing on her mother’s journey away from her home country and her attempt to settle in a distant land. To convey a full sense of her family’s struggles and triumphs, González writes from a variety of perspectives, including that of an omniscient narrator.

For those who don’t know, a golondrina is a small and plain sparrow. This unassuming little bird dips from tall trees and enters into the everyday lives of people. In Mexican culture, there is a rich catalog of songs and poems dedicated to this small bird. For many, the golondrina represents the migrant’s departure and hopeful return home; but more specifically, González evokes the bird to represent a young woman, Amada Garcia, who leaves her past behind in Mexico in order to start fresh in the United States. In the hope of finding safety, love, and a home, Amada leaves behind her young child with her abusive first husband. On her way to the U.S. border, Amada engages in a three-day love affair with the man who transports her to Texas. The short-lived relationship proves to be a foundational event in Amada’s life. Her ability to love and to be loved in return are what give her the wings to take off and fly. But the buoyancy of this initial love affair, along with Amada’s optimism about the prospects of a new life, eventually deflate as she settles in the United States and becomes a more mature, realized woman. Amada separates from her lover and quickly marries Lázaro, who, while not violent towards Amada, is a man with his own demons.

González gives Golondrina a rich, generational weave by also honing in on Amada’s and Lázaro’s eldest daughter, Lucero, who struggles to define her own sense of home in the midst of competing forces. Lucero’s point of view, in particular, presents an array intimate details that combine to form a picture of a broken yet beautiful childhood. González deftly renders the conflicting feelings of love and hate that a child can feel for her parents. Other chapters, told from an omniscient point of view, reveal the particulars of Amada’s life before Lucero’s birth. With this multi-faceted approach, Golondrina captures the lives of two women, their expanding family, and the history that many Mexican-Americans share.

Golondrina, Why did you leave me? brims with lyrical prose and sensory detail.  From the austere beauty of the Texas landscape to the smell of freshly fried tortillas, the reader is transported to a vivid and colorful world. Lucero’s aunts bring lightness and laughter to the house as they dance and sing and sew together. Reading, I found myself tapping my feet and wishing for a warm plate of home-cooked food. González is also generous in her use of Spanish. As she code-switches throughout the novel, the reader is reminded that Amada’s family has a diverse heritage that grows more complex with age.

Readers living near or far will appreciate this Texas novel. Far more than a regional text, Golondrina is a story about leaving home, rebuilding, creating family, and finding love. The language and the imagery will transport you to a world of cruel beauty, a Texas landscape that many Americans are unfamiliar with.  But the novel will draw you back into your own family, into the conflicting feelings in your own heart about those that you love and cherish the most.

—Monet Moutrie