Things We Lost in Fire

by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell

Read this in about 5 minutes

My determination to read more of regional literature from different countries has lead me to ‘All the things we lost in fire’. This one is a collection of short stories set in Argentina. The book has a whiff of social and political air into the stories. The wave of witch hunting and horror stories has given birth to many of the stories inside. Some of them even talk about the political unrest. The dictatorship has changed the way people live their lives.

This is the first book I have read from this country; and of a literary voice so crisp it gives you chill in hot Argentinean summer.

Cover: Things We Lost in Fire

Cover page

The overlap of the themes in the book is well supported by the graphic on the cover page. It portrays the fear and unrest in the book extremely well. This cover page demands a place on the shelf. The colours used, portray the heat of argentine with the mingled temperaments of the residents. The cover denotes so many things and relates to so many stories inside.

The cover page is a work of art.

Characters

There are multiple characters in the stories. But they all have one thing in common - There is a strand of insanity seen in all of them. A girl constantly swings from being sane to questioning her sanity. She wonders if she is a princess trapped in a tower or a madwoman banging the walls. The girls in Intoxicated years dance in front of the mirror which reflects no one. They want to be thin so they do not leave a trace on the snow. Even though it never snows in their city.

A little girl befriends an amputated child only to lose her inside a haunted house. There is a group of women who burn themselves. They burn themselves to relieve someone else from burning them.

Each character in the book has a touch of eccentricity but they all are very different from each other. The author must be commended to have written such distinct characters which give you goosebumps.

Content

This is probably the most beautiful part of the book. The stories have a bit of paranormal in them. They are all told from the perspective of someone residing in the country and knowing the characters too well. The stories have fragments of supernatural and psychological disturbances. In The dirty kid, a woman struggles with sanity; and appearance of a dirty kid makes her question her values and eventually her mind. The inn talks about the traces the soldiers have left behind, which comes to haunt a little girl. And my personal favourite, Adela’s house, is called so because a little amputated girl called Adela went inside and never came out. The voices inside the house used to talk to her. The boy, who went inside with her, eventually came out but committed suicide years later.

A woman finds a skull and becomes friends with it, dressing it up and eventually wanting to become like it. No Flesh Over Our Bones is going to give you chills.

The stories in the book have multiple layers. Paranormal is layered with mental imbalance and a lot of intimacy.

There is a time when the skeleton becomes the soul and then leaves the body like a long forgotten love affair. Political commentary is humbly infused in the stories, claiming truth like it’s own child.

The city didn’t have any great murderers if you didn’t count the dictators - not included in the tour for reasons of political correctness.

Mariana has set the bench mark very high for short story writers.

Language

There are simple to-the-point sentences. Exactly saying what they want to say. The words make path for you to follow. And you do so blindly.

The author leaves a lot to imagination. The writing is hauntingly beautiful. The translation preserves it’s beauty.

Good points

There are plenty. The cover page is one of the most beautiful I have seen this year. It represents the book aptly. You will fall in love with the characters and the stories. Well, give all the credit to the stunning narration. This will keep you hooked throughout the book.

Bad points

This one is a difficult subtopic. But, if I have to say something, I would say that in some of the stories there is no closure. It is left to your imagination. It is not bad but it may seem too much of work for the readers especially when they get used to the writing.

Overall

Short stories are currently my favourite read. This one is a gem too.

Whom do I recommend this to

This one is for everyone. No exception.

Quotable quotes

Maybe I wasn’t the princess in the castle; maybe I was a madwoman locked in her tower.

Shadows aren’t white, I told her. This one was white, she assured me.

She said their skulls are too small for heir brains, so their heads always hurt and the pain drives them insane; their brains just come unhinged pressed so tight against the bone.

Sad people have no pity.

‘Burnings are the work of men. They have always burned us. Now we are burning ourselves. But we’re not going to die; we’re going to flaunt our scars.’

Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com