cover image The Remainder

The Remainder

Alia Trabucco Zerán, trans. from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-56689-550-7

Zerán’s lyrical, surrealistic debut, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, explores the long shadows of Chile’s brutal Pinochet dictatorship. Chapters in the voice of the sensible Iquela alternate with those from the manic yet often insightful viewpoint of her longtime friend Felipe Arrabal. As the novel opens, the two Santiago residents are about 30. Translator Iquela copes with the clinginess of her widowed mother, Consuelo, a former anti-Pinochet activist, while Felipe believes he sees dead bodies everywhere and obsesses over calculations attempting to match their numbers against recorded births. Consuelo’s friend Ingrid dies, leaving a request that her body be repatriated from Germany, her longtime residence, to her Chilean homeland. Ingrid’s daughter, Paloma, arrives safely in Santiago to begin the process, but when an ash storm blanketing Chile diverts the plane carrying the corpse to Argentina, Paloma, Iquela, and Felipe decide to rent a hearse and cross the cordillera to fetch the coffin. Zerán’s indirect treatment of Pinochet and his impact may challenge those unfamiliar with Chilean history, but this allusive quality suits a novel focused on those who experience atrocity secondhand. This novel is vividly rooted in Chile, yet the quests at its heart—to witness and survive suffering, to put an intractable past to rest—are universally resonant.[em] (Aug.) [/em]