Alia Trabucco Zerán is a Chilean novelist, and holds a PhD in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University College London. Her debut novel, The Remainder
, is shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize; the original Spanish-language version, La Resta
, was selected by El País
as one of its Top Ten Debuts of 2015, and in 2014, won the prize for Best Unpublished Literary Work by the Chilean Council for the Arts.
(trans. Sophie Hughes) is about three young Chileans trying to come to terms with their parents’ violent past under the Pinochet dictatorship. Taking up the themes of intergenerational trauma and the subjectivity of language and interpretation, the novel follows Iquela, a translator, her friend Felipe, and a German friend, Paloma, as they take a macabre road trip in a hearse to retrieve the dead body of Paloma’s Chilean mother, diverted on route to Santiago due to an ash cloud that’s hanging over the city.
Lyrical and hypnotic, The Remainder
is about the lingering damage of political violence. Although the plot and characters are presented matter-of-factly, the novel is infused with a magical realism that communicates the surreality of life after the end of an oppressive regime; coming of age after the return of democracy, Alia Trabucco Zerán’s characters are confronted with the oddness and horror of trying to renormalize a landscape populated not just by the ghosts of ideas and individuals, but by their parents’ stories and still-living former enemies.
Though both Iquela and Felipe, who take turns narrating the story, are preoccupied with the ways the past infiltrates and muddies the present, Iquela’s concerns are often more practical (her activist mother is obsessed with her own narrative; her relationship with Paloma, a Pinochet exile, is both romantic and taut with jealousy) while the gore-obsessed Felipe is haunted by the dead, whom he sees everywhere and tries to tally.
In its review of The Remainder
, the Los Angeles Review of Books
observes, “The past is held at a distance in time. But it also reverberates through each present moment. Iquela, Felipe, and Paloma would like to shake free of their inherited burdens, but they are left with the memory in their bones.” With her debut, Alia Trabucco Zerán has written a chilling and thought-provoking examination of the tremulous life after terror that is well worth reading.
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