It’s not easy to get published. It’s even harder to get recognized. For a very long time writers of speculative fiction struggled to get mainstream recognition, and eventually they succeeded, if they lived in a rich enough country. When it comes to lower income countries like Bolivia, getting recognized is a lot harder.
Therefore I was thrilled to discover not one, but two speculative authors whose works managed to transcend the borders of that country. The first is Edmundo Paz Soldán who in 2007 published the techno-thriller Turing’s Delirium about a code-breaker in a secret government organization tasked with tracking down a cyber hacktivist. The second is Liliana Colanzi. She wrote Our Dead World a collection of some very intense speculative short stories that was translated into English in 2017. Newer books win this year. Therefore, I’m going to review Our Dead World.
Each Story is Different and Original
“She wanted to graduate with honors and apply for a doctorate abroad, distancing herself forever from her mother’s vigilance and her Eye that took in everything.” (“The Eye”)
There are eight short stories in this book. Each story is around ten pages long, and each one has something a bit different to offer. They were all really good though at creating an emotional tension, and the results surprised me more often than not.
- “The Eye” – a young teenager is forced to grapple with her religiously obsessive mom who thinks she’s from the devil.
- “Alfredito” – a little girl is forced to confront death at her friend’s funeral.
- “The Wave” – The wave brings death. Is spending your life fleeing the wave a fate better then death?
- “Meteorite”- A destructive meteorite reaches the end of it’s journey and a farmer is forced to struggle with the OCD side effects of his current medication.
- “Cannibal” – A cannibal is hiding in the city, while a lonely tourist waits in a bar for his wife to return.
- “Family Portrait” – A family photoshoot gone bad.
- “Our Dead World” – Building a life on Mars is difficult. Especially when you’re pregnant. Especially when you’ve been exposed to too much radiation.
- “Story with Bird” – A tortured doctor who lost control is forced to operate on an injured plantation worker. Neither of them wants to be there.
The Calm between the Storms
“Do you feel anything out of the ordinary? Asked the doctor” (“The Wave”)
In this book Colanzi does a masterful job of creating and manipulating tension, on multiple levels. You frequently have tension between the characters themselves, which is significantly intensified by the events taking place in the story itself. The tension between the characters themselves contrasted with what is actually going keeps you held in place, until something snaps (it doesn’t require much) – and it’s never in the way you expect.
In “The Eye”, for example, we have a young student who has spent her entire life trying to be good and pure because that is what her overly religious mother expects. Her memorization skills are excellent, but that’s not enough for her professor who expects his students to question everything. She has feelings for a boy. She even volunteered to do his paper for him, but his interests lie elsewhere (with other girls). She needs to escape, escape her mother, escape the ever-watching Eye, and get a doctorate abroad. She is a good girl, and her mother is completely wrong about what the Enemy wants from her – so she agrees to go on a date.
And no more spoilers.
Colanzi knows exactly what she is doing. She moves the pieces of her story around in just the right way to get the desired effect. Whether to lull you into a false sense of compliance, or to shatter your heart in just the right ways. After reading this book, I really hope they translate more of her work into English.
The Omer today is courage in grandeur. Courage is a recurring theme in several stories, as there are several characters who struggle to make difficult choices. Grandeur is lurking in the background. We know the wilderness of Mars is full of a radiation and that the meteor has been journeying for millions of years on it’s destructive path. We just don’t care. It’s the characters who really matter: their feelings, their choices, or lack of choices. The rest of the world can go to hell. And sometimes it does.
About the Author and Translator
Liliana Colanzi (Bolivia, 1981) has published the story collections Permanent Vacation (2010) and Our Dead World (2014). In 2015 she won the Aura Estrada Prize, awarded to female, Spanish-language writers under thirty-five currently living in the United States or Mexico. Colanzi is considered by critics to be one of the most promising voices in Latin America today. This is her first book translated into English.
Jessica Sequeira is a writer and translator. She holds an M.Phil in Political Thought and Intellectual History from the University of Cambridge. She lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina.