TagDalkey Archive Press

Our Dead World – Liliana Colanzi

​It’s time for my first Latin American choice of this Spanish Lit Month: a collection of short stories by the young Bolivian writer Liliana Colanzi, published by Dalkey Archive in a smart translation by Jessica Sequeira. These stories inhabit a place where the line between the real and the supernatural stretches thin; they’re animated by the existential tension that this implies. 

In ‘Meterorite’, ranch owner Ruddy has trouble sleeping, a side-effect of his weight loss pills. He has plenty to occupy his mind, too – not least paying off the mother of the peasant boy he took on, who was then kicked in the head by a cow that Ruddy had shot. The boy’s mother said he could “speak with higher beings”; in the days before his injury, the boy had declared that “a fire would appear in the sky to take him away”. Superstitious nonsense, thinks Ruddy – yet, on the night of this story, he believes that he sees the kitchen door move by itself; and there is the meteoroid, burning up in the sky after travelling here for thousands of years. Ruddy is so worked up that it hardly matters to him whether there’s some supernatural agency at work – nor does it matter to the story, which builds up like a storm, then breaks with dread and fury. 

Colanzi’s stories tiptoe back and forth across the line between real and supernatural, merrily smudging it at times. ‘Alfredito’ revolves around the death of the narrator’s schoolfriend. The whole concept of Alfredito being dead feels profoundly wrong to her:

And now I had to get used to the monstrous idea of Alfredito’s dead body, prepared to occupy its place in the cemetery, where it would begin its slow journey to putrefaction. Alfredito, I realized, was no longer the boy running in the countryside with arms outstretched, but was now something else. Would his parents be afraid of his body? Would they be able to touch it, to kiss it? 

“The dead never leave,” says the narrator’s nana; and, throughout the story, Alfredito’s death is never presented as completely final, because the narrator won’t countenance it. We are introduced to a whole cast of friends and family, enough for a novel, in the space of a few pages. This narrative density gives the tale a heightened energy that carries the reader along, and might even allow an impossible door to open… 

In ‘Cannibal’, a couple arrive in Paris to the news that a notorious cannibal is also present in the city, somewhere. The pair are here for an illicit liaison; but first one of them, Vanessa, has some drugs to take to a party. The entire story is told from the viewpoint of Vanessa’s lover, who stays in the hotel, thoughts churning around in his mind. His fears over what might happen to Vanessa fold back into his anxieties about their relationship, and he becomes effectively a cannibal of his own thoughts. This story won the Aura Estrada Prize in 2015, and it’s not hard to see why. 

The title story of Our Dead World seems to me to tie the collection together. Its protagonist, Mirka, has taken a lifetime contract with the Martian Lottery, working on the colony for the next round of inhabitants. She has left behind her partner Tommy, but their old life won’t let go of her so easily. Neither will Earth itself: she keeps hallucinating the presence of deer and other animals on Mars. In this story, you have the mingling of real and supernatural; prose woven into a dense tapestry (dialogue between Mirka and Tommy is embedded within the Mars-set text); and a concern with human emotions (the title ‘Our Dead World’ could refer as easily to Mirka’s relationship with Tommy as to Earth or Mars).

I’ve enjoyed reading Colanzi’s stories in this collection, and I hope there will be more to come in English translation. 


Read further reviews of Our Dead World at Winstonsdad’s BlogSF in Translation; and Bookmunch

Book details 

Our Dead World (2016) by Liliana Colanzi, tr. Jessica Sequeira (2017), Dalkey Archive Press, 114 pages, paperback (review copy).

Fragile Travelers by Jovanka Živanović: a European Literature Network review

FragileTravI’ve reviewed a Serbian novel for Euro Lit Network this month: Jovanka Živanović’s Fragile Travelers, translated by Jovanka Kalaba and published by Dalkey Archive. It is the story of a man who disappears from the real world and finds himself lost in the dreams of a woman he knows. There’s an interesting mix of twisting sentences, absurd imagery, and a sense of the characters’ disconnection from the world. Find out more by reading my review.

Book details (publisher link)

Fragile Travelers (2008) by Jovanka Živanović, tr. Jovanka Kalaba (2016), Dalkey Archive Press paperback

Best European Fiction 2015: Walsh and Armen

BestEuroBest European Fiction is an annual anthology from Dalkey Archive Press which gathers together short stories from all corners of the European continent. This year’s volume is the sixth, and I have it in mind to do a story-by-story review. Unlike previous times doing these, however, I’m not necessarily going to restrict myself to one story per post. I may as well start right now…

Joanna Walsh, ‘Worlds from the Word’s End’

This particular journey around Europe starts in England, with Joanna Walsh, creator of the excellent #Readwomen2014 project. Walsh’s piece takes the form of a break-up letter written by a woman who lives in a place where language is no longer in use. It started off as a hipster trend, then went mainstream: imprecision of speech gave way to silence, then no writing at all; until people lost the ability to name things ansd find meaning in words. Walsh’s narrator explains to her lover (who still lives in the ‘speaking world’) why she can no longer write to them:

As for me, you twisted my words and broke my English until I was only as good as my word: good for nothing, or for saying nothing. I stopped answering and that was the way you liked it. You told me you preferred your women quiet. You wanted to increase your word power? Trouble is, you didn’t know your own strength.

What particularly intrigues about this story is how slippery it all is: this world without words doesn’t quite ring true, especially when you have an individual from it who writes so fluently. The occasional deliberate grammatical errors made in reference to particular changes in the outside world feel almost like challenges to the reader: just try to imagine this! Metaphor slides seamlessly into reality, to create a world that looks coherent on the page – but try to hold it in your head and it evaporates, like the last flimsy ties of a dying relationship.

Armen of Armenia, ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?’
Translated from the Armenian by Haik Movsisian

Here’s another story which has a sense of completeness, yet is difficult to encapsulate mentally. An ‘I’ challenges a ‘you’ to answer six-and-a-half Millionaire-style questions:

Send your list on February 29, and I’m obligated to make mine public on the same day. One million Armenian Drams are being wagered. You’ll get the whole amount, if all of our picks match.

The questions include ‘What do you want?’, ‘What are you looking for?’ and ‘What happened to us on February 29?’ – all with four answers, each implying a different interpretation of events. Are these people lovers? Hired killer and victim? Both? Armen’s piece – and Haik Movsisian’s nimble translation – jumps between different levels of fictional reality, leaving the reader to decide for herself. What’s clear, though, is that the most important question is the last one: ‘Loves me, loves me not?’ The answer to that question makes all the difference.

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