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Not a River by Selva Almada

Not a River (edition 2024)

by Selva Almada (Author)

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Three men go out fishing, returning to a favourite spot on the river despite their memories of a terrible accident there years earlier. As a long, sultry day passes, they drink and cook and talk and dance, and try to overcome the ghosts of their past.
Title:Not a River
Authors:Selva Almada (Author)
Info:Charco Press (2024), 99 pages
Collections:Your library

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Not a River by Selva Almada

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La trama de la novela sigue a Enero Rey y al Negro, quienes deciden llevar al hijo de su amigo muerto, Tilo, a pescar al mismo río en el que el padre de este se ahogó quince años atrás.3​ La obra fue concebida por la propia autora como el cierre y última novela de «la trilogia de varones», conformada por las también novelas El viento que arrasa (2012) y Ladrilleros (2013). ( )
  AmicanaLibrary | May 13, 2024 |
Fire and Water
Review of the Charco Press paperback edition (January 2024) translated by Annie McDermott from the Spanish language original "No es un río" (August 2020).

Aguirre shakes his head.
Instead he says.
You know those guys who caught the ray.
Beautiful specimen.
Says César, though he never saw it, just heard.
They fucking chucked it away, can you believe?
Suddenly everything stops. The dealer pauses mid-shuffle. The drinkers put down their cups. Everyone looks at him.
They chucked it in the river?
Says Aguirre.
Says César.
We need to teach them a lesson.
Says Aguirre.
What kind of a lesson?
Says César.

The novella length Not a River was completely engrossing and although at first I thought I would read it in several stages, I found myself reading it in a single sitting. This was especially after a gut-punch twist reveal that comes along at about the 2/3rds mark (no spoiler here from me).

The story is simple enough. A trio of men, two elder ones along with the son of their deceased companion from a tragedy 20 years ago, are fishing on an island set in a river in rural Argentina. It becomes evident that they have little respect for the fishing and the catch. They capture a ray by shooting it with a gun, and later, having gotten bored with it, throw the carcass away. The local inhabitants don't take kindly to this disrespect for their resources and plan revenge. Meanwhile a sister duo of temptresses may be luring the trio to their comeuppance.

See photo at https://theworldsrarestbirds.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Would-An-Owl-Pick-Up...
As mentioned in translator Annie McDermott's Afterword, she had difficulty finding information about the so-called quitilipi owl which is apparently named after the town of Quitilipi, Argentina. The owl is reputed to resemble a wildcat. I could not find a photo of one, but I could see where various types of Great Horned Owls might look somewhat like a cat. Image sourced from The World's Rarest Birds.

I hadn't read Argentinian author Selva Almada previously, but she had a very distinctive style especially with her method of telegraphic dialogue speech as can be seen in the example above. The translation by Annie McDermott was excellent, even with the occasional Argentinian Spanish word left untranslated, which added local flavour to the text. I especially enjoyed the informative Translator's Afterword which is a feature that is often dropped or ignored by many publishers.

The ancient elements of fire and water make regular appearances in Not a River, so I immediately thought of the title track from Free's 1970 breakthrough album which you can listen to on YouTube here or on Spotify here.

Trivia and Links
Not a River is longlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize with the shortlist to be announced on Tuesday April 9, 2024 and the winner on May 21, 2024. There is a Booker Reading Guide for Not a River here and there is a Booker Q&A interview with author Selva Almada and translator Annie McDermott here. ( )
  alanteder | Apr 8, 2024 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Selva Almadaprimary authorall editionscalculated
McDermott, AnnieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Three men go out fishing, returning to a favourite spot on the river despite their memories of a terrible accident there years earlier. As a long, sultry day passes, they drink and cook and talk and dance, and try to overcome the ghosts of their past.

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