Review of “Las Cosas Que Perdimos en el Fuego,” by Mariana Enriquez

This is the latest in my Spanish reading. The English translation is “The Things We Lost in the Fire.” This is a collection of short stories by an Argentinian author. My first comment is that Spanish in Argentina drops a lot more pronouns than what I’ve read before. I had to read the entire sentence and glean every hint from word endings to know who was doing what to whom. And lots of slang that Google Translate only guessed about half the time. I’ve been listening to an audio lecture series on language and I’m beginning to suspect that written fictional Spanish follows spoken language standards rather than the written (i.e., formal) style. It’s a free for all.

The stories are all set in Argentina in the last thirty or so years, focusing on the seamier side of life for average Argentinians rather than criminals – people struggling with day-to-day life in a nation with extreme income inequality and entire cities of homeless people. There’s also some black magic and gruesome child abuse. The characters are all seriously disturbed but not enough to be institutionalized and the stories are thus real downers (especially when read carefully to try and understand them). I would add that none of the stories have endings; the reader is left hanging with no conclusion –  like the cliffhanger season finale of a popular TV show. The depiction of what people are thinking and dealing with on a daily basis is very well portrayed, however, especially when read in the native language of the region. Every story left me with a combination of sympathy and disgust for the plight of any rational person who might find themselves living under the circumstances portrayed in this book.

In general, I don’t like stories like those contained in this book, but I didn’t read it for entertainment. This is a gritty, realistic depiction of life in a developing country where frustration, superstition, inequality, and death are daily events. Just don’t read it if you want some kind of closure.

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