Argentine literature in translation has been having a moment. The country that brought the world incredible magical realists like Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Silvina Ocampo has been hitting hard with three of Samanta Schweblin’s books translated in the last six years. Alongside Schweblin, Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh made its English-language debut last year. Fernanda García Lao’s Out of the Cage, published originally in Spanish in 2014, will carry on that tradition when Will Vanderhyden’s translation hits shelves on March 9th.
A Truly Weird Novel
Out of the Cage, the first of García Lao’s nine books to be translated into English is a strange novel. As the protagonist, Aurora, tries to out-sing her family at a holiday outing, her throat is slit by “an LP, careening through the air like a demented boomerang.” Typically, the protagonist’s death would be a spoiler, but Aurora’s death is the novel’s catalyst. The “cage” referenced in the title is Aurora’s body. Her freed spirit spies on her family, an eclectic cast of characters.
Her husband is a Colonel who has retired from the service. He married Aurora because of her resemblance to Lana, a famous actress, but has since emotionally moved on to a mechanized sex doll he built in the aforementioned actress’s likeness. Together, he and Aurora have two children: a pair of conjoined twins named ManFredo who struggle over control of their shared body.
Through the first half of Out of the Cage, Aurora’s spirit watches her family’s lives continue without her. She layers in anecdotes from her past that illuminate the present and who she was in life. Because of her lack of body, Aurora is powerless, turning Out of Cage into a profoundly reflective novel. It has minimal forward momentum but still feels like a quick read at 168 pages.
A Great Voice
García Lao’s writing voice is the highlight of Out of the Cage. She describes things like a homerun hitter, sometimes knocking it out of the park— “The soul’s power cannot be conjugated. To be is infinitive” —, but the price of those great descriptions are the ones that do not connect— “I move among the guests like a strand of seaweed, uncomfortable and too visible.” Fortunately, the good descriptions vastly outnumber the bad.
The other issue with her narrative voice is that when the narrator changes about halfway through the book, the voice does not. While the speaker is someone different, they sound the same, though the characters were born decades apart.
García Lao has been called “the strangest writer of Argentine literature,” and she shows that penchant for absurdity in Out of the Cage. It is a funny, reflective book that carries on the great tradition of excellent Argentine literature.
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|Pub Date: March 9, 2021||Page Count: 168pp||Age Range: 18 & Over|
|ISBN: 978-1-6460-5045-1||Publisher: Deep Vellum Publishing||List Price: $15.95|