cover image Sidewalks: Essays

Sidewalks: Essays

Valeria Luiselli, trans. from the Spanish by Christine MacSweeney. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-56689-356-5

“Writing about Mexico City is a task doomed to failure,” notes Luiselli, yet that’s the just task she takes on in her essays exploring that city, as well as Venice and New York. Each essay is subdivided into bite-size observations, arranged lackadaisically under subtitles that relate more to the subject at large than the contents of their section: construction signs, for example, or cycling directions for Luiselli’s route through her neighborhood. These essays take an unhurried pace well-suited for the ambling walks and bike rides that inspired them, deepened by literary and historical asides that situate these places in a context beyond the present moment. Language holds as much significance as geography here, particularly those words that have no easy translation, such as Portuguese’s melancholic saudade or the Spanish concept of relingos—unclaimed urban space. This leads some sections to become overly enamored of their own lyricism, but the final essay brings the collection to a satisfying conclusion, returning to Venice and the San Michele graveyard in which the first essay occurs, while incorporating key details from earlier pieces. Luiselli’s writing here seems more rightly called poetry than prose, evoking all the sensory detail that implies and leaving any prosaic conclusions for after the journey’s end. (May)