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Gabino Iglesias Review The Witches of Brenda Lozano – Locus Online

witchesBrenda Lozano (MacLehose Press 978-1-529-41227-7, $22.04, 271pp, hc) April 2022.

Brenda Lozano, acclaimed Mexican author and PEN Award winner, fourth novel witches weaves together two parallel narratives that dive deep into the lives of two very different women who live in the same country but inhabit different worlds. This lively novel, translated from Spanish by Heather Cleary, reads almost like two separate short stories tied together by a narrative point, but the very different voices and lives of the two main characters make it work.

Feliciana is an indigenous curandera who lives in the tiny town of San Felipe in Jalisco, Mexico. She doesn’t speak Spanish and can neither read nor write, but she has been given gifts that allow her to heal people, both physically and spiritually. Throughout her life, Feliciana has cared for local and international celebrities. Documentaries have been made about her gifts and newspaper and magazine articles have been written about what she does. Far from Feliciana, in Mexico City, lives Zoe, a journalist who has a very deep bond with her mother and sister. The two women meet when Zoé covers up the murder of Feliciana’s cousin, Paloma, a trans woman.

More than a standard story arc novel, witches tells the story of Feliciana and Zoe, exploring the most significant events in their lives and chronicling the decisions and experiences that shaped them. They live in the same country at the same time, and Paloma’s story brings them together, but most of the novel is about them, apart, and how they understand the world.

Although it’s a book with two separate stories and two main characters, it has a central idea that gives it a sense of cohesion. It’s something Zoe’s mother tells her after she ‘sees’ something and they both go to save Zoe’s sister from a man who wanted to abuse her: ”All women … are born with a bit of bruja in them, to protect themselves.’ ‘ Zoe’s mother has an instinct for things, which is far from active work – potions, healings, burying names, rituals, etc. , their sixth sense, that ineffable female talent for taking care of things, which Zoé’s mother simply calls “intuition”.

For more than half of the novel, Feliciana and Zoe seem to live on different planets. As they recount their lives, the differences are huge and very obvious. However, there is something slightly supernatural that brings them together, even if it’s not directly addressed in the story. In addition, both tell their chapters, which alternate, and their voices are very different. However, this difference only makes them more interesting when viewed side by side. Zoe is a modern, educated woman who has a knack for telling stories about her sister. Feliciana, on the other hand, has a very particular voice with a unique rhythm and way of looking at life, death, love, family and her work through a distinctive supernatural lens:

And so there are companion deaths, there are people who die in order to be able to follow the one who preceded them, then death lays its egg in the soul of a person because it asks him to and if this isn’t she trying to take her egg the way people snatch things at the market, but death is always there to sing her song.

By presenting two women so different from each other, Lozano shows readers two cultures, two histories, two ways of life, two Mexicos and two ways of interpreting the world. Its simple, no-nonsense prose is misleading because readers think they’re reading about Zoe’s childhood or Feliciana’s husband, who went to war and fired a violent alcoholic who beat up their three children, but it soon becomes clear to those who pay attention that they are also reading about how we rarely know anyone completely, and that knowing others is impossible until we really know ourselves.

witches talks about magic, healing, and how your experiences affect how you process trauma. Lozano is a keen observer who brings two very different worlds to the page with vibrant passages and lots of heart. Translation work is crucial because it opens doors to other places, ideas, identities and cultures, and this novel does that very well.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, teacher and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and coyote songs and the editor of On both sides. Her work has been nominated for the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. Her short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and her non-fiction has appeared in the New York Timesthe Los Angeles Timesand CrimeReads. Her work has been published in five languages, optional for the cinema and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl and Meg Gardiner. His critics appear regularly in places like NPR, Weekly editorsthe San Francisco Chronicle, criminal element, Mystery Tribune, Flight. 1Brooklynthe Book review in Los Angeles, and other print and online sites. He has served as a jury member for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has been a judge for the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

This review and others like it in the July 2022 issue of Venue.

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