cover image How to Order the Universe

How to Order the Universe

Maria Jose Ferrada, trans. from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer. Tin House, $15.95 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-951-14230-8

Ferrada debuts with a pithy bildungsroman about a Chilean girl whose parents’ marriage never recovers from the loss her mother experienced under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Seven-year-old M spends most of her time as an unofficial sales associate for her father, D, a traveling hardware salesman who is “nothing special as a father” but “an excellent employer.” M regularly accompanies him on business trips and lies to her emotionally absent mother about her resulting school absences. As the subterfuge grows and years pass, M’s job takes up more of her time and she becomes a savvy businesswoman who develops an understanding of the universe as run by “the Great Carpenter.” Things begins to derail, however, when she and her father encounter E, a photographer who takes pictures of ghosts he sees at the graves of those disappeared by the Pinochet regime. When M discovers E and her mother are childhood friends and linked by a ghost both can see, their family’s tenuous life and the lies that bind them unravel. Ferrada keeps the plot moving along with a winning combination of M’s perceptiveness and innocence. A moving tribute to childhood, Ferrada’s novel is an enthralling tale of resilience, deception, and trauma during a dark time in Chile’s history. (Feb.)