Things We Lost In the Fire

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Title: Things We Lost In the Fire (original title: Las cosas que perdimos en el fuego)

Writer: Mariana Enríquez (translated by Megan McDowell)

Publishing House: Hogarth Press

Date of Publication: February 21st 2017 (first published February 10th 2016)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’The gaucho is good,’’ he said. ‘’But the other one isn’t.’’ 

He said it in a quiet voice, looking at the candles. 

‘’What other one?’’, I asked. ‘

’The skeleton’’, he said. ‘’There are skeletons back there.’’

Uncompromising women. People in the margins of their society. Citizens fighting against tyranny. Black magic. Folklore. Haunted buildings. Haunted souls. Threat and compassion. Fight and terror. Despair and persecution. Violence and disbelief. Toil and disillusionment. 

In Mariana Enriquez’s world, you need to tread carefully. Once you enter her universe, there is no going back. The macabre, the raw, the real. Life is waiting for you…

The Dirty Kid: A poignant story about a dilapidated neighbourhood, children forsaken and lost, a brave woman and the futility of trying to help. A tale of Santa Muerte, Pomba Giro, and Gaucho Gil.

The Inn: A story about a mysterious provincial town, dark buildings and the relationship between two teenage girls. A solemn (and insolent) marriage of teenage sexuality and the terror of the State.

The Intoxicated Years: A company of teenage girls try to cope with broken families and all kinds of disappointment by consuming drugs, drugs and more drugs during the years of the daily power cuts and the deep poverty in Argentina.

‘’The house tells us the stories. You don’t hear it?’’

‘’Poor thing,’’ said Pablo. ‘’She doesn’t gear the house’s voice.’’

‘’It doesn’t matter’’, said Adela. ‘’We’ll tell her.’’

And they told me.

About the old woman, whose eyes had no pupils but who wasn’t blind. 

About the old man, who burned medical books out by the empty chicken coop, in the backyard. 

About the backyard, just as dry and dead as the front, full of little holes like the dens of rats.

About a faucet that never stopped dripping, because the thing that lived in the house needed water.’’

Adela’s House: A sad, haunting story about three brilliant children and a strange house. What starts as a typical ‘’haunted house’’ tale becomes a sinister cautionary tale. I loved it!

An Invocation of the Big-Eared Runt: A guide specializing in True Crime tours in Buenos Aires is suddenly haunted by Argentina’s worst serial killer, the murderer of children. The images of Orehudo’s crimes and the difficulties at home create a haunting combination. The closure will stay with you…

‘’I don’t like the word chicharra; I wish they were always called cicadas, which is only used when they’re in the larval stage. If they were called cicadas, their summer noise would remind me of the violet flowers of the jacaranda trees along the Parana or the white stone mansions with their staircases and their willows. But as it is, as chicharras, they make me remember the heat, the rotting meat, the blackouts, the drunks who stare with bloodshot eyes from their benches in the park.’’

Spiderweb: The trip to Paraguay takes a very strange turn for our sympathetic narrator, her spirited cousin and the worthless piece of mear that is actually her husband. Dictatorship, local legends, nightly dangers form an enticing mixture of the crazy and the solemn. Who weaves the web and or whom?

End of Term: A painful -literally – story of a girl who practically mutilates herself, haunted by a man and the girl who tries to help her. Dark, haunting and raw.

‘’Vera and I will be beautiful and light, nocturnal and earthly; beautiful, the crusts of earth enfolding us. Hollow, dancing skeletons. Vera and I – no flesh over our bones.’’

No Flesh Over Our Bones: A young woman becomes obsessed with an abandoned human skull.

The Neighbour’s Courtyard: A social worker whose unspeakable negligence led to disaster believes that a boy has been kidnapped and tortured by her neighbour. This story had potential but ended up being a rather dubious commentary on mental health. Not to mention that it was disgusting. There is a difference between the raw and the uncanny and the violent just for the sake of shock value. I was angry and disgusted.

‘’In his house, the dead man waits dreaming.’’

Under the Black Water: A nightmarish story of a woman who tries to find the murderer of a teenage boy, a slum city full of violence and death, and the cult of the dead. In my opinion, this was the finest moment in the collection and a powerful commentary on the violence and discrimination against the ones who live in the margins of a troubled society full of corruption and crime.

Green, Red, Orange: A story about the terrible hikikomori phenomenon, the lethal dangers of the Internet and mental health. Very poignant and acute in its honesty.

Things We Lost In the Fire: I averted my eyes from the page quite a few times while I was reading this story. Not because of disgust but because of rage and a striking feeling of despair and helplessness. When men start committing unspeakable crimes against their wives, the women decide that it is time to pay them back. Them and the society that allows this to continue. Domestic violence is seen under a raw, poignant light in the story that concludes a demanding, ‘’difficult’’ collection.

You can’t sit and wait for others to defend you. They won’t. You have to stand your ground and have the guts to attack (mercilessly and uncompromisingly) when your dignity is threatened. This has been my motto and my compass for 36 years and it sure as Hell won’t change now!

Outstanding translation by Megan McDowell who also penned a superb Translator’s Note.

‘’Do you know the kind of foulness that reaches us here? The shit from all the houses, all the filth from the sewers, everything! Layers and layers of filth to keep it dead or asleep. It’s the same thing, I believe sleep and death are the same thing. And it worked, until people started to do the unthinkable: they swam under the black water. And they woke the thing up. Do you know what ‘Emanuel’ means? It means ‘God is with us.’ The problem is, what God are we talking about?’’

Read more about the Burning Women here: