LAND OF SMOKE  by Sara Gallardo


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Rediscovered Argentinian Gallardo's (1931-1988) short story collection pushes the form in new and unexpected directions in her first book translated into English.

Like the work of her more famous contemporary Jorge Luis Borges, Gallardo's writing eschews realism. In "Phases of the Moon," a missionary dies while attempting to baptize a werewolf. In "Things Happen," a pensioner proud of his garden wakes up to find himself, along with his house and yard, "in the middle of the sea." In another story, clouds are revealed to be controlling human affairs: "It's clouds themselves, not the mere factors that form them, that act on the collective events of humanity. They combine them, decide them, precipitate them." Playful and philosophical, many of Gallardo's stories are written in the style of fables. In "The Thirty-Three Wives of Emperor Blue Stone," each brief section is narrated by one of the titular women, not all of whom are fond of their husband: "May he die, defeated....May his sons betray him, and he know it." The story ends with a flash-forward to the emperor's funeral, where "his wives will stand in a row, waiting for their skulls to be broken." Gallardo has a strong, original, unsentimental style—an island with birds flying above it "seemed to move, like a dead rat covered in flies." Stories begin matter-of-factly: "A man spent twenty years making himself a pair of wings," or "A cat escaped from a house full of ornaments," or "I prefer to slit throats, though my marksmanship isn't bad." Moving between fantasy and myth, they explore the points of view of animals real and imagined ("Tall as a hundred trains, the sea serpent lifted her body into the air, and enjoyed the view of infinite sea"), of trains, a lawn, two Danish siblings, artists and prostitutes, a loner at a bar whose "loneliness waited for him just as a car might for others."

This is a significant addition to South American literature in translation; the breadth of Gallardo's imagination expands the canon.

Pub Date: July 10th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-78227-403-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2018


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