Eartheater by Dolores Reyes
Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches
Published by HarperVia, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Eartheater is a strange and hypnotic look at violence and poverty in modern-day Argentina. Following the death of her mother, our narrator feels compelled to eat a fistful of freshly turned earth from atop her grave. This act grants her an exact vision of how her mother died. Word of her ability spreads through the community as she grows, with more and more people seeking her out with bottles full of earth, hoping she can give them answers about their missing and deceased loved ones.
Given the bold concept, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a somewhat ethereal edge to the book’s atmosphere, but Reyes cleverly balances the stranger elements of the story with stark reminders of its present-day setting. This allows its social commentary to still resonate despite an air of whimsy.
I liked what the book seemed to be saying about our connection to the earth, and the marks we leave behind. Our narrator’s power also throws up some interesting moral questions: Should she accept money in exchange for her services, knowing how much her “clients” are suffering? Is it fair for others to expect her help when the process causes her considerable distress and discomfort?
In all, I thought this was a book of great ideas, carried by solid prose, but it never quite landed the sucker punch I was hoping for.
The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail
Translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow
Published by Carcanet Press, 2006
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In this collection, exiled Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail writes predominantly about the myriad ways her homeland and its people (particularly women and children) have been devastated by war. Though she uses some nice imagery, there’s a directness to many of the pieces that allows the sobering power of the subject matter to shine through. Experimentation is employed sparingly, and is all the more successful for it. And despite never shying away from reality, I appreciated the thread of hope that runs throughout.