Prodigies

Angélica Gorodischer, trans. from the Spanish by Sue Burke. Small Beer (Consortium, dist.), $14 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-61873-100-5
Written in 1994, this is the third book by Argentinian writer Gorodischer to appear in English. Ursula K. Le Guin translated the first, Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was (also published by Small Beer), which established Gorodischer’s stature in the worlds of SF and speculative fiction. This book is neither genre, however: it’s a fable-like story of a house in the small German town of Weissenfels—a house that was the home of 19th-century German Romantic poet Novalis. Solidly built on a pleasant street, by the mid-19th century it is a boarding house run by the efficient Madame Helena. Gorodischer inhabits the minds of various residents—the general refighting past wars, the tea salon manager dreaming of travel, a retired opera singer and her sullen daughter, a man obsessed with miniature figures, and the cook and maids—around the time a Japanese pearl seller moves in. Although short, the book reads slowly: long, complicated sentences unfurl, mixing prosaic detail about meals (heavy and delicious sounding) with dreams and dread. Despite the house’s many comforts, hauntings penetrate its quotidian world—not witches or ghosts, exactly, but the past, the imagined future, and a kind of unease that stems from being alive, fearful, guilty, human. The residents’ thoughts and routines can charm or chill the reader, and though the book requires patience and tolerance for oddity and open ends, as a picture of the strangeness of life at its most ordinary, it’s a compelling curiosity. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/18/2015
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