Thursday 20 October 2022

Book Review: Camanchaca by Diego Zúñiga, translated by Megan McDowell

Camanchaca Camanchaca by Diego Zúñiga
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a strange but intriguing little book. I came to it via other works by its translator Megan McDowell who amongst other things translated the marvelous Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. This is the first book by Diego Zúñiga and it has been immediately translated into English. He was included in the Bogata 39 list of the best fiction writers under 40 from across Latin America, see

The first thing to strike the reader is that this is an episodic novel of very short passages, 110 in all ranging in length from a short line to almost a full page. My copies rear page says this "A long drive across Chile's Atacama Desert, traversing the "worn-out puzzle" of a broken family - a young man's corrosive intimacy with his mother, the obtrusive cheer of his absentee father, this uncle's unexplained death. The camanchaca is a low fog pushing in from the sea, its moisture sustaining near -barren landscape. Sometimes, the silences are what bind us". This is spot on as a summary and intro.

The text is as fractured, disjointed and distributed as the young narrator's life - he floats from his mother's house, to his father, to his grandfather's house and between childhood memories and the present. It is fully of references to contemporary music, gaming and sport (I particularly related to his excitement at watching the amazing football (soccer) match between Man U and Bayern Munich). The narrator's life is a mess, his family is broken and dysfunctional, his neighbourhood dangerous, and references to those who disappeared in previous generations abound. The fog of the title is metaphorically felt throughout - his memories are vague, they are from a childhood when he was too young to know, to ask to understand, his questions aren't really answered, and the mystery of what happened to his Uncle Neto deepens - both reader and narrator do not know, the past remains unexplainable. Atmospheric, lyrical and quietly addictive. An ambitious structure for a first novel, and it leaves this reader wondering how much is biographical and about what is to come

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