This debut novel in English by the Spanish poet feels like a collection of short stories that weave back and forth through time. Attempting to bypass and often unknowingly giving in to intergenerational trauma, two working-class women try creating lives of their own for freedom from patriarchal constrictions, financial hardships, and everlasting grief, while these impediments and the changing Spanish life, culture, and politics from 1969 to the 21st century push them to abandon ambition for exhausting menial jobs—and suffer even more for doing so in a society built on class divides.
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The very first scene shows Alicia, in her thirties, searching her pockets for enough money to get home after a late shift while women in Madrid are planning to march for their rights. Maria is a retired worker—and Alicia’s grandmother—who has built a women’s support group which is helping organise this march. The two don’t know each other and the two are also opposites. Maria is kind and patient as she pushes against her exploited past to eventually find respect in middle age; Alicia has always been privileged until her father commits suicide and leaves her and her mother in debt, which eventually numbs her to love and emotions. Yet both are similar in the path of economic insecurity, tough decisions, and regretful life choices.
Truly a straightforward, unfiltered and bold interpretation of three women’s —the third being Carmen, Alicia’s mother and Maria’s daughter, who was abandoned by both when Maria decided to leave her as a baby till she had enough funds to bring her back (only to come back to a teenage Carmen who no longer wished to live with the mother who had left her) and when Alicia leaves her to cripple under her late husband’s debts—lives impacted by gender and class hardships in a country where cultural tectonic plates are shifting, and across a past that surrendered to fragmented conditions and a present that demands change.
The Wonders, Elena Medel
Algonquin Books, March 2022
Note: A review copy was acquired via the publicist.