Book Review: The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada #WITMonth #WomenInTranslation

“So, in a curious lurid calm which could not last and yet, it seemed, could not end, the days went by.”
Iris Murdoch, The Message to the Planet

The Wind That Lays Waste is Selva Almada’s debut novel and the first of her books to appear in English. It is published by Charco Press and translated from the original Argentinian Spanish by Chris Andrews.

From the blurb:

The Wind That Lays Waste begins in the great pause before a storm. Reverend Pearson is evangelizing across the Argentinian countryside with Leni, his teenage daughter, when their car breaks down. This act of God – or fate – leads them to the home of an aging mechanic called Gringo Brauer and his young boy named Tapioca.

As a long day passes, curiosity and intrigue transform into an unexpected intimacy between four people: one man who believes deeply in God, morality, and his own righteousness, and another whose life experiences have only entrenched his moral relativism and mild apathy; a quietly earnest and idealistic mechanic’s assistant, and a restless, sceptical preacher’s daughter. As tensions between these characters ebb and flow, beliefs are questioned and allegiances are tested, until finally the growing storm breaks over the plains.

In just 114 pages, Almada explores the present day encounter between these four characters, together with the key elements of their life stories. Her writing is extremely concise, perhaps even terse, all the while conveying incredible depths of emotion, drama and atmosphere. Being so short, it is a book which can easily be read in one sitting. But I found that I kept wanting to take time between the pages to absorb the the narrative and its building tension.

It is a difficult book to review because the brevity of language leaves space for the reader to make up their own mind about what is happening and about the true nature of the characters. I am conscious that any analysis could spoil the experience of a first-time reader. So let me just say that I found it to be a truly multi-layered narrative. You feel as if you are making progress with understanding the characters, each revealing themselves bit by bit. And yet, at the same time, more questions arise which pull you in different directions. On the surface, the story seems pretty straightforward. But the balance between transparency and opacity shifts, like the gathering clouds racing across the sky as we wait for the expected storm.

Despite being a short text, I suspect it is the kind of narrative that reveals more and more of itself with each re-read. I am looking forward to returning to it at some point. I also hope that someone will at some point turn it in to a stage play – it would make for an amazing visual experience, with plenty of claustrophobic drama. Meanwhile, I am very much looking forward to Charco Press’s next Almada publication, Dead Girls, on 3 September 2020.

17 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada #WITMonth #WomenInTranslation

  1. I’ve been looking at Charco recently, and of the books in their list, this is the one that appeals the most. I’m really glad you liked it – the layered nature of the narrative sounds very effective.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another excellent post, Liz. You are truly a treasure hunter of books, with remarkable success. I was especially interested in viewing Charco’s website and was drawn to their mission in reaching out to unknown authors based on language: “We select authors whose work feeds the imagination, challenges perspective and sparks debate. Authors that are shining lights in the world of contemporary literature. Authors that have won awards and received critical acclaim. Bestselling authors. Yet authors you perhaps have never heard of. Because none of them have been published in English.” Where would we be if “Doctor Zhivago” remained untranslated or The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho or Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, or The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery and the list goes on and on and on….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Becky, you are always very kind. Charco is a new-to-me indie publisher and I am totally in to their books at the moment. As you say, where would we be without these pioneers of literature…..

      Liked by 2 people

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