Translated from Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
Published by And Other Stories
“‘But you must know about the taiga syndrome, right?’ he asked…‘It seems,’ he continued, almost whispering, ‘that certain inhabitants of the taiga begin to suffer terrible anxiety attacks and make suicidal attempts to escape.’ He fell silent, though it seemed like he wanted to continue. ‘Impossible to do when you’re surrounded by the same terrain for five thousand kilometers,’ he concluded with a sigh.”
An Ex-Detective is hired by a man to track down his wife, who has left him for another man. But she has been sending her husband postcards from their travels, so he assumes she wants to be found. The Ex-Detective (ex because she has not been able to solve her last few cases and has almost given up the profession) accepts.
The Ex-Detective follows the trail, which leads halfway across the world to the taiga, where she hires a guide/translator. When the two of them go into the taiga, they find clear indications that the man’s wife and her lover have lived in an abandoned hut, and people in the vicinity report seeing them, starving and filthy.
But is something being lost in translation? Or is reality being warped in the forest? Things start to get a bit strange, and the Ex-Detective feels that she might be in the realm of fantasy, with feral boys, wolves, and breadcrumb trails that lead nowhere. There are things she cannot makes sense of: “It’s difficult to describe what can’t be imagined”.
This novel by Mexican author Cristina Rivera Garza reads like a nightmarish fairy tale. Rivera Garza weaves in the stories of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, but uses the original versions which are far more brutal than the sanitized ones that most of us grew up with.
There is brutality too in the logging of the taiga forests and in the lumberjacks, who bring corruption with them. Rivera Garza raises questions about exploitation and capitalism, escape and madness, and about love—not only love’s tenacity but also the fact that, like everything else, it dies.
The language is dreamlike, beautifully translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana. The book becomes a little weird towards the end, but it is the very strangeness of the story that makes it haunting.