Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Mexican Gothic

silvia moreno garcia mexican gothic
Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Mexican Gothic

A worrisome letter from her cousin Catalina brings Noemí to a remote place called „High Place“. Only a year ago, Catalina married Virgil Doyle and moved with him in the mansion close to a former mine where the British family made a fortune. Even though it is 1950, there is still no electricity in the house and Noemí feels like being in a British novel of the 19th century. Her cousin is in an awful state, not only physically, but also mentally and she does not only rely on the medication of the family doctor but also got some tincture from a local healer. Strange rules make it difficult for Noemí to adapt to life in the house and it does not take too long until she herself feels that something strange is going on in there. She has very lively nightmares and cannot get rid of the impression that the walls are talking to her. Is she also going mad like Catalina?

Quite often you open a novel and while reading you have the impression that the title and the plot do hardly have any connection. In Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s book „Mexican Gothic“, however, the title perfectly announces what you will get: a wonderful Gothic horror story in the style of the 18th and 19th century. A spooky old mansion in a remote place without any available help close by, a mysterious cemetery whose inhabitants seem to wander about, nightmares, terror and morbidity accomplish it.

Noemí is presented as an educated yet a bit shallow young woman who cares more about partying and having fun than worrying about her family. Therefore, she only reluctantly follows her father‘s orders to put an eye on Catalina‘s situation. When she arrives at High Place, she continues her slightly contemptuous behaviour towards the Dolye family. Only after having talked to Catalina is she moved a bit and willing to help her cousin. Her stubbornness prevents her from being absorbed by the strange activities in the house.

Soon, however, the fine line between reality and insanity becomes more and more blurry, not only is neither the protagonist nor the reader sure if Noemí‘s dreams are only very vivid or if there are frightening things under way. And then, the horror show really begins.

I totally adored how the author gradually drags the young woman and the reader into this story which oscillates between fascinations and abhorrence. Even though you are well aware that most of what happens cannot be real, it is easy to imagine that in such an old house, ghosts could roam and walls could    talk. A magnificent read which transports you to a time long gone and a world where much more is possible.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho – Denn sie sterben jung

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Antonio Ruiz-Camacho – Denn sie sterben jung

Noch machen die Mädchen Pläne für ihrem Sommertrip nach Italien, doch sie ahnen nicht, dass sich das Leben des gesamten Clans schlagartig ändern wird. Als der Patriarch José Victoriano Arteaga nicht nach Hause kommt, ist seiner Familie schnell klar, was geschehen sein muss, denn das Leben in Mexico Stadt folgt klaren Regeln und die werden vom Gesetz der Straße bestimmt. Zu bleiben ist keine Option und so flüchten sich die Familienmitglieder in die USA und nach Europa, wo sie zwar Sicherheit, aber nicht unbedingt das Glück finden. Acht Kapitel, acht Neuanfänge in der Fremde und eine Familie, die sich langsam verliert und auf unterschiedliche Weise nicht ankommt.

Wenn man Meldungen au Mexico verfolgt, sind die meist durch Gewalt, Bandenkriege und Drogenkartelle bestimmt. Die Oberschicht verschanzt sich hinter hohen Mauern und allerlei Sicherheitsvorkehrungen, am anderen Ende der Gesellschaft kämpft man täglich ums Überleben. Carlos Ruiz-Camacho ist in dieser Welt aufgewachsen, als Sohn eines Unternehmers ist er in der Umgebung großgeworden, die auch die Mitglieder der Familie Arteaga kennen, seit mehr als zehn Jahren lebt der Journalist jedoch in Texas und berichtet über die schwierige Situation in seiner Heimat, vor der sich nur wenige flüchten können.

So verschieden die einzelnen Charaktere, so verschieden sind auch die Geschichten, die sie in der neuen Heimat erleben. Nur verbunden durch die Blutsbande und den Patriarchen, der aus dem Off kommentiert, ergibt sich erst in der Gesamtschau ein Bild der Familie, die glücklicherweise durch einen Stammbaum zu Beginn des Buchs dargestellt wird. Manche der Stories haben mich mehr berührt, wie etwa die des achtjährigen Bernardo, der wider Willen nach Palo Alto verfrachtet wurde und dort einfach nicht ankommt, sondern nur auf die Rückkehr nach Hause wartet. Die Teenager Homero und Ximena sind unterdessen in Manhattan auf sich allein gestellt, wann und ob die Eltern wieder kommen, bleibt unklar, nur dass die Ratten in ihrer schäbigen Unterkunft Obdach gefunden haben, steht außer Frage. Auch die Geliebte des Patriarchen und ihr gemeinsamer Sohn versuchen sich mit der Situation zu arrangieren, wobei sie lange gar nicht ahnen, in welcher Gefahr sie womöglich schweben.

Das Debüt wurde von den Feuilletons insgesamt sehr positiv aufgenommen und tatsächlich kann jede einzelne Erzählung durch den genau passenden Ton für die jeweiligen Protagonisten überzeugen. Interessant ist auch, dass nicht das Gewaltverbrechen im Zentrum steht, sondern das, was mit den Personen drumherum geschieht, deren Leben schlagartig völlig aus der Bahn geworfen wird. Ein erhellender und unterhaltsamer Blick in eine mir völlig fremde Welt, der mich auch neugierig auf Literatur aus Mexico machen konnte – für mich ein weitgehend blinder Fleck in der Literaturlandschaft.

Valeria Luiselli – Lost Children Archive

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Valeria Luiselli – Lost Children Archive

A typical patchwork family: mother with daughter and father with son form a new unit after the parents got to know each other through work. For a new professional project of the father, they leave New York and their cosy home for the southern states close to the Mexican border. A very unique road trip of a family which is educating for their young children, but also brings them closer to the hot political topic: thousands of children are on their way to the border to come to the USA. As the family gets closer, the radio news become more and more a part of their life, too.

Valeria Luiselli’s novel was nominated on the long list for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and you can quickly understand why it definitely earned a place there: the author masterly combines fact and fiction, mixes different types of materials to for something new and she has an outstanding capacity of using language.

There is so much one could say about the novel which makes it difficult to make a selection for a short review. The largest part is narrated from the mother’s point of view, a character who is highly poetic in describing especially her family relationships and who thoroughly analyses not only how the dynamics within the family shift but also how they interact with the outside world. I also liked this idea of having boxes in which each of the characters collects things with a certain meaning for them. Then, you have the American history – the past with the stories of the Native Americans which is contrasted with the present and its train of children moving towards the country.

The characters are not given any names, they are just mother and father, son and daughter. They could be anybody. They are you and me confronted with the real world and forced to understand that we live in a kind of multi-layered reality in which you repeatedly have to adjust yourself and your opinion depending on your current point of view and knowledge and experiences. The novel does not provide definitive answers, but it provides you with masses of questions to ponder about.

Lawrence Osborne – Only to Sleep

lawrence-osborne-only-to-sleep
Lawrence Osborne – Only to Sleep

It’s 1988 and Philip Marlowe is already 72 years old and retired. But when an insurance asks for his help to investigate the death of a certain Donald Zinn, his curiosity is aroused and he accepts the job. After talking to the widow – young and beautiful and hardly mourning – he travels to Mexico to follow the last traces of the rich American. He soon finds out that there are some pieces about his death which do not really make sense and then he happens to find the man alive and kicking. But Zinn isn’t stupid, he knows how to get money and how to get rid of Marlowe. A scavenger hunt starts across Mexico.

Lawrence Osborne, who could already win me as a loyal reader with his former novels “Beautiful Animals” and “The Forgiven”, has done a great job in his Philip Marlowe novel. I liked Raymond Chandler’s hard boiled crime novels about the investigator and it is a risk to copy such a great writer. Yet, Osborne succeeded in creating exactly the mood that one finds in the old Marlowe novels and he placed the novel convincingly in the late 1980s. The title already is an homage to Chandler’s greatest novel and you can feel that Osborne has a lot of respect for his idol.

The novel itself has everything it needs: a femme fatale who seems to shift easily from one role into the other, a treacherous couple, a fierce environment where bribery reigns and money easily floats between the informant and the investigator. Some unexpected twists and turns made the plot move at a high pace, but most of all, it is the atmosphere that made it a great enjoyment to read. Even though it set in 1988, you can still feel the old Marlowe who acts as if nothing had changed since the 1930s and actually much that happens in Mexico could have happened decades before in exactly the same way. For me, Osborne did a great job and his Marlowe is in no way inferior to Chandler’s.

Steve Schafer – The Border

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Steve Schafer – The Border

It was meant to be the great celebration as it is a tradition in Mexico: Carmen’s 15th birthday, the so called quinceañera to which many friends of the family were invited. But then suddenly shouting and gunshots. Just a couple of minutes later, almost all guests are dead, shot in the head. Only the teenagers Pato and Arbo, best friends since they were born, and the siblings Marcos and Gladys have survived because they had gone outside and could hide in the backyard. Then they are seen and they have to run. In Mexico under to law of rivalling gangs no one can escape their verdict. They must go north, to the USA, take the hard route through the desert without money, without knowing how. An old friend of Pato’s father helps them at first, and hides them for a couple of days, but the gangs are after them and soon the four lost souls find themselves out in the blazing sun without water or orientation.

Steve Schafer’s novel narrates a story we mainly know from the news: Mexico, a country in which the governmental institutions are powerless against the well-organised gangs who rule not only the drug market but also the human trafficking business. It is with them you have to come to terms with and either you accept their rules or you find yourself shot dead. The story thus seems to be quite authentic and especially the people’s fear which is omnipresent throughout the plot gives a good impression of what life is like there.

In the centre, we have two main aspects. The first is the illegal transgression of the northern border. It is not only the danger of being caught by the border patrol – neither on the Mexican nor on the US side this is something you can with for. It is also the dangerous and often fatal route through the desert. During daytime, the sun is burning hot and since you cannot carry as much water as you’d normally need, it is a tricky calculation if your supplies will suffice for your route. On the other hand, without a local guide, you are soon lost and erring around the sandy landscape. The four teenagers, too, make these experiences which more than once bring them close to death. Also the other refugees who pop out now and again tell the same story. Additionally, this is a market and again, you cannot just you what you want to without following the rules of the gangs.

The second and even more interesting aspect is the relationship between the four of them. For one thing, they are too young to know why their parents were shot. This question is looming over them, especially when Pato and Arbo come to realise that Marcos, who is a bit older, seems to know something. And when the two boys have to accept that their fathers’ business might not have been what they always thought it was and that they, too, might have made deals with the gangs, they have to adapt everything they ever believed in to this. Further, being threatened by death brings them closer together at times and more apart at others. They are on the edge with their nerves and often close to just giving up.

The author especially succeeds in the psychological portrayal of the characters under those extreme conditions. They are lively and never act like adults might in their place. They have a survival instinct but nevertheless stick to their teenage convictions shaped by the idea of friendship and mutual support. All in all, a young adult novel with the typical topics of the genre presented under the most awful conditions and written at a high pace which makes you read on.