The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia Mcleod (tr. Gerald Mettam)

The Cost of Sugar book with Sarith and Minimini on front cover under big leaf

a nutshell: set in the 18th century, this utterly absorbing novel weaves together stories of love and cruelty during the period of slavery in Suriname – a raw exposé of life under the chief sugar colony for the Dutch

a line: “Five cents for a pound of sugar, and how many hands, arms, legs and human lives were sacrificed for this!”

an image: many parts of this book were heart-wrenching – one of these moments was the scene in which a child throws himself between his hateful mother and his beloved slave to protect the latter, reflecting how family dynamics were twisted in these oppressive households

a thought: I haven’t been so addicted to a book in a long time – I was reading it at breakfast, on my lunchbreak, right after work – I even had to be comforted by a colleague when I was visibly upset by one plot twist; McLeod is an absolutely masterful writer

a fact: the book was made into a major motion picture, framed differently from the book but still potentially worth a watch!

want to read The Cost of Sugar? visit here

Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi (tr. Jessica Sequeira)

Our Dead World book with picture of camera on front cover, flowers and brick wall in background

a nutshell: these one hundred pages of short stories vary in setting (from South America to Paris to Mars) but share a sense of instability & dreamlike quasi-horror

a line: “I coldn’t understand how someone could laugh on the way to his own death”

an image: one powerful story, ‘The Wave’, personifies depression as a wave that finds the narrator at night, living on the limits of sleep with faces of a kaleidoscope of horror

a thought: for me, the first half of the collection was each gripping & unusual, whereas I actually found the titular story (‘Our Dead World’) a little confusing & dry; overall it’s a fantastical, unique book

a fact: in 2015 Colanzi won the Aura Estrada Prize – awarded to female, Spanish-language writers under 35 currently living in the US or Mexico

want to read Our Dead World? visit here

Southpaw by Lisa St Aubin de Terán

Southpaw book by ivy plant

a nutshell: written over 25 years, these dogged short stories of dispossessed individuals are set first on or around the Hacienda Santa Rita (a sugar plantation in the Venezuelan Andes) then in Umbria, Italy – two places where the author chanced to live

a line: “Life took longer to live in the wet weather”

an image: SPOILER | for me, ‘Eladio and the Boy’ was an especially moving story – I found myself genuinely upset by the scene of inexplicable loss when Eladio’s quiet friendship with a pair of eagles is shattered by human intrusion & violence

a thought: I looked up the definition of southpaw: (1) a boxer whose strongest hand is the left (2) a person who uses their left hand to do most things – which I assume alludes to the stories’ contexts of South America and southern Italy, as well as the narratives of eccentricity (since left-handedness was historically perceived as such) and the characters’ ability both to receive and to administer blows

a fact: in the intro, the writer openly labels herself an “alien observer” in these communities; in the absence of anywhere specific to call home, she says she found an “emotional home in other people’s roots”

want to read Southpaw? visit here

The German Room by Carla Maliandi (tr. Frances Riddle)

a nutshell: on stumbling into a personal crossroads, a woman impulsively leaves Buenos Aires for Heidelberg – the city in which she spent her first five years – where her world widens into an unscripted, impassioned realm

a line: “Something suddenly became clear to me: I don’t want to buy a set of coffee mugs ever again, or straighten pictures on the wall, or decide where to put the rug that looks rustic but isn’t … I’d rather be surprised when I open the window”

an image: the final scene (which of course will remain a mystery here) is misty, fragile, exquisite – it veers nebulously towards the magical realism melded into much of South America’s literature

a thought: this was the second book by an Argentinian author that I read this week (the other was Norah Lange’s People in the Room, tr. Charlotte Whittle, And Other Stories); I hadn’t decided in advance which I’d review but chose The German Room for several reasons incl. (i) it had me far more engaged (ii) though the action takes place in Germany, its characters have a deep, fascinating relationship with Argentina as a country, (iii) Maliandi’s beautiful writing deserves to be shared

a fact: the book’s narrator has parallels with the author’s own life – she too is the daughter of philosophers who escaped Argentina’s military regime (though Maliandi’s parents took refuge in Venezuela rather than Germany)

* a bonus fact: film rights have apparently been sold to award-winning filmmaker Diego Lerman *


want to read The German Room? visit here