This World Does Not Belong To Us by Natalia Garcia Freire

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This World Does Not Belong To Us by Natalia Garcia Freire

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: An intriguing protracted monologue of a returning son seeking vengeance for what happened at his childhood home. Detailed, mystical, and very humane.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: May 2022
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-0861541904

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Early comments on this debut novel from Ecuadorian writer Natalia García Freire include Tremendous, a delight. I will agree with the first – tremendous is no understatement – but 'a delight' is perhaps using the expression in a way I'm not familiar with. I have to confess my ignorance of the Spanish-language literary tradition so forgive my generalisation here. From the little I have read (in translation, I don't read Spanish) there does seem to be a tendency towards the fantastical – the mystical realism.

A digression: is there something about the cold northern climes (Scotland, Scandinavia, the colder northern states of the U.S.) that have us defaulting to crime in those areas, and something about the more equatorial latitudes that have us leaning to myth and magic as something warm and internal, intrinsic to the human condition, rather than an eerie cold-light outside force?

This World… is definitely in the warm, mystical, murky camp. It's a short novel, coming in at under 200 pages, easily short enough to be read at one sitting (which I did). The whole of it reads like an extended monologue. The story-teller is Lucas. His audience is his dead father.

Lucas has escaped from a slavery he was sold into and has slogged his way back to his childhood home to find Felisberto and Eloy still ruling the roost. These were the men he saw arrive and by whatever power they held over his father, slowly exert their claim on the property.

Lucas tells his tale as we might, in talking to a relative, snippets of memory as they come up, from the distant shared past, and the more recent past that is purely Lucas's own. And part – possibly – imagination. Even as a small child Lucas had a fascination for insects.

He understood them better than he understood people, and the story-telling hints at why that might have been so. It links his love of the insect world into his mother's love of plant life. And both are reflected in the actions of the humans in the story.

Far from being "a delight" this is a very dark tale of manipulation and madness and how the one may lead to the other. It is a tale of humanity's place in the world (and for that I adore the title!). It is also a tale of lost love, and the destructive, but maybe sometimes also redemptive need for revenge.

As a story: it is dark, bleak, but ultimately conclusive.

However, novels are not only about the stories they tell. They are also enmeshed in the way they tell them. It's always tricky to credit the use of language when you're reading a book in translation because I have no idea how much credit needs to go to the translator (in this case Victor Meadowcroft) and how much rests with the original author. Simply put: as a non-Spanish-speaker, I cannot know how faithful a rendition of tone and feel it is. I also feel that perhaps not having the latin sensibility that even if the linguistic translation is accurate, the 'feel' of it would still elude me.

All of that said… I loved it.

I did read it at one sitting. I wanted to know what happened, and who would be saved, and if, and how. I loved the close observation of detail of the farming life and the natural world around it. I hated, but was squeamishly intrigued by, the very close observation of the human body. I love the simplicity of the life it describes – and the complexity of crimes that can be folded within it.

I wouldn't use the word delight but it is a grounded novel, and a magical one, if that's not too much of a contradiction. It has the hallmarks of becoming a classic.

Sometimes it's hard to figure what to compare a book to, when you haven't read the like of it before. This is one of those, and I rumbled around trying to find something pertinent in style. When I stumbled it finally occurred to me that the last book I reviewed for this site Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham is very different in genre, but actually covers the same themes of family, and vengeance, and touches on the nature of the world outside of the human – so just maybe, like me, you will find a very different book just as enjoyable.

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