Monday, September 13, 2021

How to Order the Universe

How to Order the Universe
  How to Order the Universe
Author:  María José Ferrada (Author). Elizabeth Bryer (Translator).
Publication Information:  Tin House Books. 2021. 180 pages.
ISBN:  1951142306 / 978-1951142308

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "D began his career selling hardware items:  nails, saws, hammers, handles, and door viewers, brand name Kramp."

Favorite Quote:  "... most of the time, a good silence is more valuable than a good piece of advice."

Some pragmatic facts to start with. This book is a very fast read. Its 180 pages have plenty of white space so it reads even faster than the short length would indicate. I do not feel that anything is lost in translation. The translation paints a factual and emotional picture. I cannot say it is the picture the author intends, but it is a picture that works for me.

Seven year old M's father D is a traveling salesman. D sells hardware supplies. To M, her father's life on the road - the travel, the car, the restaurant, the sense of being on holiday, the people, the perceived importance - seems ideal. Her mother maintains the order of school and life. M dreams of life on the road. She and her father often orchestrate situations in which M travels with him with her mother being none the wiser.

The book, told from seven year old M's point of view, is that child's view. Presumably, it is her attempt at seeing an order to her own universe. The author and translator manage to successfully create that idealized view of D and his life in a Chile run by dictator Augusto Pinochet. This was a time of persecutions, censorship, and military rule. That background, however, fades as this is a child's story.

Between the lines of the child's narration are realities an adult reader sees. Traveling sales is a dying business. D's life and lifestyle is perhaps not in the best interest of his family or even his own. The political climate creeps in. Between the lines, the relevance of regime also comes through for its impact is the story of M's mother. What this narrative does not say and spell out is almost as important, if not more so, than what it does say.

Along the way, D & M meet E, a photographer who photographs ghosts. In a regime with military rule and persecution, perhaps ghosts are what remain. The connection is an important and impactful one for all three even though the child may not realize it.

The idealism is sadly, shattered violently one day. M's life is perhaps never the same.

As with coming of age stories, M comes of age and begins to see the reality of her father's actions. The change is inevitable and at the same time so abrupt and tragic. It leaves me wonder that as a teenage M grows and matures further, perhaps in the future, she may make a different choice.

The fact that I think beyond the end of the book is a statement to the success of the story and the storytelling. I wonder what happens to these two people further in life.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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