Book Review – Such Small Hands

TITLE: Such Small Hands
AUTHOR: Andres Barba
TRANSLATED: Lisa Dillman
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 2017 (Original Spanish Version – 2008)

 

At the very beginning of this story, there’s a car accident involving seven year old Marina and her parents.  Her father died immediately, her mother later at the hospital, as they tell you several times in the book.  She’s sent to live in an orphanage with a random group of possessions and a doll whose eyes quit opening and closing like they should.

The other girls in the orphanage are unsure of how to act around her, and what ensues from that is a weird dance of small children who want to know each other and yet can’t bring themselves to say what they mean (or perhaps lack the ability to do so).

 

There’s something about Spanish fiction.  It’s like this beautiful string of poetry that dances in on a gentle breeze, twirls around you a few times, and then leaves you breathless.  Unlike American fiction, there’s no fucking blue chair to understand (ie, no heavy descriptions to bog you down), you get a strand of blonde hair here or a white scar there, never before you need to know about them, and never again after their usefulness is done.  Because it’s not about the overly described thing in the corner that doesn’t even matter, it’s about the moment and about you being a part of it.

The skin around the scar contracted in a fleeting spasm and the girl opened her mouth as if she wanted to devour everything: the air, Marina’s arrogance, her own fear.

This book is in three parts.  Part one is the accident and getting Marina to the orphanage, all Marina’s point of view.  Two and three switch between the other girls, who are seen as a descriptioneless collective.  Parts of a whole that we never talk about individually because they aren’t ‘the other girls’ if we do.  In fact, their names are mentioned individually and then as one collective long name with no spaces.  To Marina they are one, so to us they will be too.  Part 2 is about Marina and the other girls seeing each other and keeping their distance.  Part 3 is about the contact between them.

I want to talk more about part 3.  About how something so sad and so helpless can be made so beautiful.  But I also don’t want to give away what happens.

The book was terribly sad, but in a beautiful wrapper in such a way that I hungered for more.  I felt like the girls, who just wanted to reach out a finger but were afraid of interrupting the magic if they did.  I wanted to know more about so many things, but I knew as soon as I did, it would have the subtlety of a pencil to the butt and that wasn’t at all what I wanted.

It’s only a novella, or maybe even a novelette (My very basic word count estimate is 20k, so novella, but it’s definitely not an accuracy level I’d swear by) which actually enhances the story.  This could be a novel, but you wouldn’t want it to be… it needs to be the single movement and not the whole symphonic performance for the night.  So I give it a very high 4/5 – read the book, somewhere quiet with no distractions, and let it be your own music.  But I don’t think you’ll need to read it more than once, because I think this one will haunt you for a long time to come.

 

 

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