Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Wonders

The Wonders
  The Wonders
Author:  Elena Medel (author). Lizzie Davis & Thomas Bunstead (translators).
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2022. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1643752111 / 978-1643752112

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She checked her pockets and found nothing."

Favorite Quote:  "It's funny, Maria will think many years from now, how memory generates its own fictions:  how what hasn't stayed with us, because we think it insignificant or because it doesn't align with our expectations, gets filled in with what we wish had happened instead."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Three generations - Maria, Carmen, and Alicia - separated by time distance and difficult choices. Maria grows up in a small town. She has a baby at a young age out of wedlock. She is sent to her aunt's house in Madrid while the baby stays with her family in her small town. In Madrid, Maria learns the relationship between money and power. Carmen grows up knowing very little of her mother, and that sends her life on a different trajectory. Carmen's daughter Alicia moves to Madrid to see her own future. Maria and Alicia's paths cross in the context of the Women's March in 2018, but neither know it.

In parallel perspectives, the book tells the story of these three women and the issues, challenges, and changes surrounding the role of women. Politics and the women's movement provide the context and history of their stories.

The release of this book during Women's History Month is clearly purposeful as these three women chart their course within what is still a patriarchy. The placement of the current time at the time of the Women's March certainly ties into that theme.

I want to like this book better than I actually do. The theme and the idea appeals to me. The publicity for the book and the awards it has one speak to its success. Yet, I feel like I am missing something. I feel like I get lost in the story, and I do not understand. That begins at the beginning and continues all the way to the ending. Perhaps that may be due to the fact that I am reading a translation. Elena Mendel's background is in poetry. Perhaps that style carries to this book, and it just does not translate.

The emotion of the book - or the emotion that I think should be there - does not come to life off the pages. I don't really understand why, but say, once again, that perhaps, it does not translate well. As the language changes, so does the spirit of the story.

What I do walk away is an understanding of the universality of certain experience and certain gender struggles. The women of this book struggle with teenage pregnancy, single parenting, the quest for independence, family expectations, societal norms, the patriarchy, and so much more. This book is set in Spain and covers three generations. The same conversations occur in so many other nations and across so many times. So many parallels across time and place - some days it seems like this conversation makes no progress at all.

About the Book

From award-winning Spanish poet Elena Medel comes a mesmerizing new novel of class, sex, and desire.

Already an international sensation, The Wonders follows Maria and Alicia through the streets of Madrid, from job to job and apartment to apartment, as they search for meaning and stability in a precarious world and unknowingly trace each other’s footfalls across time.

Maria moved to the city in 1969, leaving her daughter with her family but hoping to save enough to take care of her one day. She worked as a housekeeper, then a caregiver, and later a cleaner, and somehow she was always taking care of someone else. Two generations later, in 2018, Alicia was working at the snack shop in Madrid’s Atocha train station when it overflowed with protestors and strikers. All women—and so many of them—protesting what? Alicia wasn’t entirely sure. She couldn’t have known that Maria was among them. Alicia didn’t have time for marches; she was just trying to hang on until the end of her shift, when she might meet someone to take her away for a few hours, to make her forget.

Readers will fall in love with Maria and Alicia, whose stories finally converge in the chaos of the protests, the weight of the years of silence hanging thickly in the air between them. The Wonders brings half a century of the feminist movement to life, and launches an inimitable new voice in fiction. Medel’s lyrical sensibility reveals her roots as a poet, but her fast-paced and expansive storytelling show she’s a novelist ahead of her time. I understand the sadness intellectually. I just wish I was walking away feeling it.

About the Author

Elena Medel is a Spanish poet and the founder and publisher of La Bella Varsovia, an independent poetry publishing house. Medel was the first woman ever to win the prestigious Francisco Umbral Prize, for her debut novel The Wonders, which was also longlisted for the Finestres Award and has been translated into fifteen languages. She published her prizewinning first collection of poetry, My First Bikini, when she was sixteen years old.

About the Translator

Lizzie Davis is a translator and an editor at Coffee House Press. She has translated Elena Medel’s poetry collection My First Bikini, Juan Cárdenas’s Ornamental (a finalist for the 2021 PEN Translation Prize), and work by Valeria Luiselli, Pilar Fraile Amador, and Aura García-Junco. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Granta, and other publications.

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