The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada tr. Chris Andrews

Evangalising Across the Argentinian Countryside

A reverend and his teenage daughter break down in the middle of nowhere on a steaming hot dry day, after he ignores her advice to get the problem checked before they left the last town (his home town). A visit that caused her to feel both sorry for  her father.

But her sympathy didn’t last. At least he could go back to places full of memories…Leni had no lost paradise to visit. Her childhood was very recent, but her memory of it was empty.  Thanks to her father, the Reverend Pearson, and his holy mission, all she could remember was the inside of his car.

Leni, now 16, hasn’t seen her mother since the Reverend dumped his wife and her suitcase on one of their road trips.

This happened almost ten years ago. The details of her mother’s face have faded from Leni’s memory, but not the shape of her body: tall, slim, elegant. When she looks at herself in the mirror, she feels that she has inherited her bearing. At first she believed it was just wishful thinking, a desire to resemble her. But since becoming a woman, she has caught her father, more than once, looking at her with a blend of fascination and contempt, the way you might look at someone who stirs up a mixture of good and bad memories.

The Lone Garagist

The Wind That Lays Waste Selva Almada

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A truckdriver tows them to ‘the gringo Brauer’s‘ garage, a man raising his teenage son Tapioca alone, the boy abandoned there by his mother when he was 8 years old.

Tapioca’s memories of his mother are vague too. After she left him, he had to get used to his new home. What interested him most was the heap of old cars. The dogs and that mechanical cemetery were a comfort in the first weeks while he was adjusting. He would spend all day among the car bodies: he played at driving them, with three or four dogs as co-pilots. The Gringo left him to it, and approached the boy gradually, as if taming a wild animal.

The father hadn’t finished school himself, his son could read, write and do sums so didn’t see why the boy needed to keep up with it. He decided Tapioca could learn by working and observing nature.

It might not be scientific, but nature and hard work would teach the kid how to be a good person.

Seeing the Light

Storm Thunder Wasteland

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

The Reverend sees good in the boy and sets his righteous missionary sights on him. Leni sees what’s happening but doesn’t intervene.

Leni had conflicting feelings: she admired the Reverend deeply but disapproved of almost everything her father did. As if her were two different people. Earlier, she had told him to leave Tapioca alone, but if she had joined them on the porch now, she too would have been captivated by his words.

Brauer doesn’t appreciate the Reverend putting ideas in his son’s head, the tension mounts and none of them know yet that there’s a storm coming.

It’s a slow build-up, getting to know the characters, two men set in their ways, with children who rarely question their authority. They are used to being in charge. It’s a short, tense, reflective novella of these two unorthodox families whose lives intersect and cause a disruption, just as the storm breaks a long period of dry.

10 thoughts on “The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada tr. Chris Andrews

    • It’s a captivating afternoon read and another from Charco Press, bringing us insights into contemporary Latin American fiction. It is certainly one that stays with you and also, one I’d like to have read a little further, there could have been an interesting sequel. Very provocative and atmospheric, at that tipping point just before young people push for their own independence. On the cusp.

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    • Yes, I remember reading your review and being delighted I had it on the shelf, I’d stopped reading my Latin American books after the ‘Feebleminded’ effect and then when The Adventures of China Iron was shortlisted for the International Booker, it reawakened my curiosity and I loved it. And this one too, definitely an author I would read more of, the characterisation and atmosphere are so well done, I virtually wrote the review using quotes, to demonstrate how well one passage tells a story. My words surplus to requirement.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Of all the books of the Charco Press list, this is probably the one that appeals to me the most, so I’m really glad to see a positive review from you. It sounds very atmospheric, with a sense of tension building over the course of the book…

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting your discernment, because I took an annual subscription and had mixed results in reading and find it hard to discern from reviews sometimes, due to what I’d describe as a more academic or intellectual approach, which can often deceive the more mundane reader. I found that too with many of the reviews of Bolano’s 2666 which I waded through without realising. All just to say one can’t beat healthy discernment and knowing one’s inclinations and aversions when it comes to literature.

      I do think you’ll appreciate this one.

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  2. Adding this to my list for reading! I don’t usually read novellas, but my library has this one. Looking forward to the slow build and then tension. I’ll have to look into others from Charco Press as well 🙂

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