cover image Camanchaca


Diego Zúñiga, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. Coffee House, $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-56689-460-9

This striking novel helps introduce Zúñiga, acclaimed Chilean author and journalist, to a wider English-language audience. Spurred by an offer to save his teeth from receding gums, a quiet and introspective young man joins his estranged father on a drive across the Atacama Desert from Santiago to Iquique. Along the way, the 20-year-old unnamed narrator begins to reflect on his relationships with his parents. Preparing to cross the border into Peru to visit a dentist in Tacna, he struggles to contextualize the broken recollections of his youth: his parent’s separation when he was a child, a troubling moment with his mother, and the ambiguous details of his uncle Neno’s death. Returning to his childhood home, the narrator seeks information on the whereabouts of a missing cousin who might have answers. With this skillful translation by McDowell, the story sustains suspense by gradually revealing itself. The fractured narrative switches from page to page between past revelations and present observations, mirroring the restless mind of the protagonist as he searches for connections. Zúñiga cleverly uses this technique to represent a young person’s hunger for self-actualization. As the book progresses, “like someone putting together and taking apart a worn-out puzzle,” these shattered pieces of prose—sometimes only a single poignant sentence or evocative paragraph—join together to build a vivid mosaic. This arresting and deeply affecting read, despite its short length, packs a punch. (Mar.)