The Remainder – Book Review

Alia Trabucco Zerán, The Remainder, Fiction

Coffee House Press 2019

Ash falls in heaps and Felipe counts dead bodies, trying to reduce the massive amount of dead still stacking up to zero. Old and new are blended together with Iquela, stuck in her mother’s past and legacy and wondering who she is. A road trip to retrieve a childhood acquaintance named Paloma’s dead mother’s coffin, who wished to be returned to Santiago upon her death. Alcohol, drugs, and sex fueled endorphins make this novel dangerously real while blurring their reality. Set in modern-day Santiago, in the legacy of Chile’s dictatorship.

With unstable narrators, this novel is two entirely different perspectives that piece together to form a true image of Santiago. Felipe’s chapters number down from 11 to 0, while Iquela’s are subtitled simply (). This novel echo the themes of legacy and heritage with Iquela, who breaks in throughout her chapters in closed parentheses filled with her true thoughts. The vivid diction and free form sentences with various interruptions force the reader into her mind. Supernatural effects blend into realty as both point of views accept them as real. The reader is forced to question the validity of both Felipe and Iquela, and if these things are really happening. Without reliable narrators and with side characters not disputing their claims, magic becomes reality. Seeing one character’s motivations and inner thoughts then played out in action viewed in the other character’s mind made it possible to have completely different prospective on the same events.

This novel is powerful, showing how the past affects us in major ways. The legacy of the past, and what it means to mourn it. And to top it all off, this is the author’s debut novel, originally published in Spanish and translated by Sophie Hughes. This book is a must read. As Carlos Fonseca said:

“A spirited, brave, urgent book, capable of weaving the political and the poetic.”

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