Earlier this fall, I read Chilean author Alia Trabucco Zerán‘s new book, The Remainder. The original Spanish title is La Resta, and I read the translation by British translator Sophie Hughes. This novel is at once familiar and distinct. While the focus is on post-Pinochet Chile, the story is told through the eyes of present-day young adults who grew up in the shadows of their parent’s rebellious, militant past. These characters are close to history, yet removed just enough to still be grappling with what history means to them. Alia Trabucco Zerán captures this new generation and the uneasy questions about Chile’s history that still linger in the air.
The protagonists of The Remainder are Felipe, Iquela and Paloma. Although living in modern-day Chile (and, for one of them, modern-day Germany), all three are still haunted by childhood memories surrounding their parent’s secretive, anti-dictatorship activities. Each of the three, in their own way, cannot escape an era in which they were only very young children.
Together they go on a hero’s/heroine’s journey to solve a mystery (I won’t give any spoilers here!). During this journey, they encounter painful reminders of the past and questions about the present, as well as what is to become of their future. The author captures a beautifully stark, dry, unforgiving landscape, both in urban Santiago and in the vast desert and mountains beyond. This landscape seems to mirror the unforgiving thoughts and actions that the main characters have and act out in their own lives.
For me, the most captivating parts of the book were those told in Felipe’s voice. I’ve never read anything like these passages, and kudos to Sophie Hughes for translating and capturing such a unique protagonist. You have to read this book to fully understand Felipe’s character—what a creation.
This book is mysterious, captivating, beautiful…highly recommended!
Here is an article about the book in Spanish: cultolatercera.com
Photos courtesy of Coffee House Press, Culto (La Tercera) and Words Without Borders.