cover image False Calm

False Calm

Maria Sonia Cristoff, trans. from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. Transit, $16.95 ISBN 978-1-945492-14-3

“Isolation is present in everything I have found written about Patagonia,” Argentinian author Cristoff writes at the beginning of this marvelous chronicle of her sojourn in the remote, vast region, where one “could walk and walk but still remain in the same place.” The “ghost towns” she visits—El Cain, Cañadón Seco, Las Heras, among others—lie at almost the literal end of the Earth. But the true isolation here is psychological: the book’s strength lies not in descriptions of the places Cristoff visits but in its portraits of the people she meets. There is Martina, an unpublished novelist abandoned as a young child and married to an abusive singer at 16, who leaves her husband after discovering his affair with her own mother and takes up gambling because she enjoys “seeing, for the first time, that men were like defenseless creatures around those smoke-filled tables.” Most memorable is gardener and self-declared telepath Sandra, who is convinced that a teen suicide epidemic in Las Heras is the work of a secret cabal conducting mind-control experiments. These sharply observed essays prove that while the landscape of Patagonia may be desolate, it also teems with human fears, aspirations, and love. (Oct.)