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Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro
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Elena Knows (original 2007; edition 2021)

by Claudia Piñeiro (Author), Frances Riddle (Translator)

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904251,113 (3.79)14
After Rita is found dead in a church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation,Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.… (more)
Member:bhelg33
Title:Elena Knows
Authors:Claudia Piñeiro (Author)
Other authors:Frances Riddle (Translator)
Info:Charco Press (2021), 173 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

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Elena knows by Claudia Piñeiro (2007)

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Best for:
People who enjoy mysteries but who are also interested in deeper writing and social commentary.

In a nutshell:
Elena’s daughter Rita was found dead, hanging from the bell tower of their church. It is determined to be suicide, but Elena knows otherwise.

Worth quoting:
“She continues on, as if no one else existed, just like she feels no one else knows she exists.”

“Not long ago I was told I was arrogant. Don’t keep the names other people give you.”

Why I chose it:
This was another recommendation from my book spa day, and I’m so happy it was recommended to me, as I don’t think I would have come across it otherwise.

Review:
Elena has Parkinson’s. She can’t move her neck up, so her view when she is walking, or sitting, is basically the lower half of what most of us see. She doesn’t have tremors, but she isn’t able to move without assistance from medication, and the book is broken up across the four pills she takes during the day, as they kick in and then wear off. She meticulously plans her movements and day based on whether she’ll be able to walk.

And today is a big day. Elena has big plans, though we don’t learn exactly what they are until the end of the book. Her daughter Rita, who lived with and helped Elena with her personal care needs, was found dead a few weeks ago. She was found hanging in the church bell tower right before an evening mass, during a rain storm. To everyone else, it is clear that Rita died by suicide. But Elena knows something else: Rita was terrified of lightning, specifically of the church tower being struck by lightning during a rain storm. She never went to church when it was raining. So clearly, something else is up.

Throughout the fairly short book, we learn a bit about who Rita was, Rita and Elena’s relationship, and how Elena’s illness affects Elena’s life and Rita’s life. But it is all through Elena’s lens, so the question becomes - how much does Elena really know about Rita?

The book looks at a lot of issues that other ‘mystery novels’ don’t tend to dive into - primarily, what do our bodies mean to us, and how much control do we have. Should we have. And how much do other people seek to control us?

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend ( )
  ASKelmore | Sep 15, 2021 |
Knowing Elena
Review of the Charco Press paperback edition (July 2021) translated from the Spanish language original "Elena sabe" (October 2007)

Argentinean novelist Claudia Piñeiro is known primarily as a literary crime novelist and several of her books in that genre have been previously translated into English and published by Bitter Lemon Press. A cover blurb has described her as "the Argentine Patricia Highsmith" which hints at a perhaps blurry morality and noirish tone, in common with the writer of Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Ripliad (1955-1991).

This most recent translation is published by Charco Press, an excellent promoter of translated Latin American literature from which I have especially enjoyed several works and discovered new favourite writers such as Luis Sagasti and Karla Suárez in recent months.

Elena Knows does start out with what is a common plot device in crime and mystery novels, the suspicious or doubtful suicide. It does not follow the standard tropes of that situation at all however.

The victim Rita is the caregiver daughter of the title character Elena who is progressing through the stages of Parkinson's Disease which are still being treated through a medication that temporarily offsets its symptoms. Elena feels that she "knows" that her Rita couldn't possibly have committed suicide under the circumstances that she is found and sets out to enlist aid in order to prove it.

This journey across Buenos Aires is the main body of the book but it also allows time for Elena's flashback memories of her life with Rita. Although this isn't a crime novel in the standard sense, it still keeps us in suspense as to what is the reason Elena thinks someone will help her and what is the true story of the end of Rita's life. What we discover is that the book is more about the issues of caregivers and elder care, about women's bodies and abortion rights (abortion was not legalized in Argentina until December 2020, this book was first published in Spanish in 2007) than the supposed 'crime' at its introduction.

This was yet another terrific writer that I have discovered through Charco Press and I am happy to continue supporting them. I read Elena Knows due to its selection for the 2021 Borderless Book Club for which it was the August 12, 2021 selection.

Trivia and Links
If you are reading this before August 31, 2021 then there is still time to register for the book launch event for Elena Knows via https://mailchi.mp/7a049f1c935b/elena-knows-virtual-launch-event?e=84953e79fe or https://charcopress.com/events/2021/8/31/elena-knows-virtual-launch

This event will include a pre-recorded interview between Claudia Piñeiro and journalist and scholar Ingrid Bejerman (in Spanish with English subtitles), plus a live conversation between translator Frances Riddle and Charco co-director Carolina Orloff and an audience Q&A.

Additional links courtesy of Maddie Rogers at the Borderless Book Club:
This review of Elena Knows in the New York Times.
An interview between Claudia Piñeiro and Frances Riddle.
This Guardian article includes a short interview with Claudia as well as several other recommendations of international literature to read this summer.
Watch Frances Riddle read from her translation on Translators Aloud.
Some of Claudia Piñeiro's other novels are available in translation over at Bitter Lemon Press. ( )
1 vote alanteder | Aug 28, 2021 |
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Für meine Mutter
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Also los, den rechten Fuss heben, nur ein paar Zentimeter, nach vorne bewegen, ein kleines oder grosses Stück weit, gerade so, dass er sich am linken vorbeischiebt, und dann wieder aufsetzen.
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After Rita is found dead in a church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation,Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.

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