Faces in the Crowd

Valeria Luiselli, trans. from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (154p) ISBN 978-1-56689-354-1
Luiselli’s haunting debut novel, about a young mother living in Mexico City who writes a novel looking back on her time spent working as a translator of obscure works at a small independent press in Harlem, erodes the concrete borders of everyday life with a beautiful, melancholy contemplation of disappearance. The woman worked at the press before she was married and had children, and her days there are marked by a willful transience and solitude, as she goes to bed with friends and memorizes poems by Frederico Garcia Lorca, Emily Dickinson, and William Carlos Williams. She becomes fixated on Gilberto Owen, a Mexican poet who had lived in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and she does everything she can to convince her editor to publish him. The young mother and translator blur together: as a mother, she struggles to find time to write while caring for her two children, her worktable littered with toys and diapers. The narrative then makes another turn, travelling back a century to follow Owen, who discusses poetry with Garcia Lorca and Joshua Zvorsky (a thinly veiled Louis Zukofsky), and wonders about the “echoes of people” whom he sees in the subway. He moves to Philadelphia 20 years later, lonely and going blind. Inhabited by the spectral presence of poets and a creeping desperation that branches into the psyche of the narrators, this elegant novel speaks to the transience of reality. The elusive strands of the young woman and Owen’s narratives intertwine and blur together as Luiselli plays with the idea of time and identity with grace and intuition. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/17/2014
Release date: 05/01/2014
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