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Land of Smoke
by Sara Gallardo
(Pushkin Press, £12)
TO READ this collection of masterfully crafted short stories by Sara Gallardo, first published in 1977 and now translated for the first time into English by Jessica Sequeira, is to be immersed in a dazzling and at times hallucinatory world.
Gallardo, scion of a patrician family of Spanish origin in Argentina, was a descendant of Bartolome Mitre, President of Argentina from 1862 to 1868, and the name of her grandfather Angel Gallardo, a civil engineer, scientist and politician, now adorns a busy subway station in Buenos Aires.
In contrast with her illustrious ancestors, Gallardo became an unconventional and audacious figure and was a much-coveted author during the 1960s and 1970s in Argentina. She died at the relatively young age of 56 in 1988, by which time she had made a name for herself as a writer and journalist.
She wrote five novels, three children’s books and a collection of short stories but her popularity waned in Latin America after her death. Her books were not reprinted in her native country but she has been recently rediscovered as a major author, especially by a younger generation of readers and writers.
Gallardo's success lies in the unusual twists and turns of her narratives about peculiar characters and situations and that's certainly the case with Land of Smoke.
Here are tales of a strange mountain cave in the Andean cordillera harbouring a soldier escaping a monster, the life of a French lover bought as a present in Paris by an elusive Argentinean general turned president in the 19th century and the a story of a suburban garden lovingly tended by a pensioner which mysteriously disappears under rising water.
Fascinating and strangely unsettling, they encompass the historical, the everyday and the otherworldly and they are populated by characters and places from an Argentina that no longer exists, a fantastical country conceived by an author with an inexhaustible imagination.
Gallardo rightly deserves to be better known in the English-speaking world for her distinctive and idiosyncratic prose and for her great talent as a true storyteller.
This collection should be ranked alongside other great works of fiction by Latin American female writers of the so called post-Boom movement, from the Chilean Isabel Allende to the Argentinean Luisa Valenzuela and from the Puerto Rican Giannina Braschi and the Uruguayan Cristina Peri Rossi to the Mexican Elena Poniatowska.
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