Spanish & Portuguese Lit Month Review: Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney


Thank you to Winston’s Dad’s Blog for hosting Spanish & Portuguese Lit Month.

My Interest

Here is my initial post for this challenge. I had to invest some time researching “do-able” books for this challenge. By that I mean, I had to find books short enough and compelling enough to work around other commitments this month as well as work with my on-again, off-again attention span for print reading [by which I mean any non-audio books]. One of my personal reading goals for 2021 is to read more essays since I’ve finally begun to enjoy them, so when I found this slim (130 pages) volume of essays on sidewalks and cites, I was pleased to find an e-copy available through my regional library. Another draw was that the introduction was written by the author or the nonfiction book I selected for this challenge (but which may take much longer to read).

The Story

According to Amazon, this volume was a 2014 Book Riot Must-Read Book from an Indie Press. Well then. Author Valeria Lusielli, born in Mexico, grew up in South Africa and won a MacArthur “Genius” award in 2019–that really caught my attention. She is best known for her novel, The Lost Children Archive which won a slew of awards the year it as published (and which it appears was written in English).

The ten essays, which begin with the exotically titled “Joseph Brodsky’s Room and a Half” cover various aspects of the authors travel and life in various cities. The prose is very poetic and the essays themselves often quote poetry, frustratingly for me and other neanderthal American readers, poetry in other languages with no English translation offered. I said “neanderthal” because why should it be translated when it is perfectly understandable to the author who has been reasonable and allowed her own words to all be translated.

Most interesting to me was the second section, “Hondo,” of the second essay “Flying Home,” which discussed the Map Library in Mexico City housed in the National Meteorological Service Building. I spent months cataloging maps of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland while I was in Malawi years ago, so map libraries and other map collections fascinate me.

Also interesting, again for personal reasons, was the discussion of melancholy–which “Aristotle thought …was a divine gift, only given to men of true genius.” I sincerely hope that, were he alive today, Aristotle would accord women sufferers this brilliance as well. Certainly it can foster intense creativity.

Some of the quotes that caught my eye in other essays include:

“Apologists for walking have elevated ambulation to the height of an activity with literary overtones.” (“Manifesto A Velo”).

On curing homesickness: “…nothing produced better results than sending them back home,” while not poetic in the least is certainly what always helped my own profound cases of homesickness at any age. (“Alternative Routes”).

“Cities, like our bodies, like languages, are destruction under construction….” (“Stuttering Cities”).

“…there’s a quadrangle of tiny absences….” (“Relingos: The Cartography of Empty Spaces).

“Spaces survive the passage of of time in the same way a person survives his death: in the close alliance between the memory and the imagination that others forge around it. They exist as long as we keep thinking of them, imagining in them; as long as we remember them; remember ourselves there, and , above all, as long as we remember what we imagined in them” (“Relingos: The Cartography of Empty Spaces).

My Thoughts

I can’t say I was taken with all of these essays. Some expressed the “vapid navel gazing” type sentiments that have traditionally put me off reading essays, but enough were vivid and alive and made me see exactly what the author wanted me to see that I kept on with them. Maybe next year I’ll read Faces In The Crowd--her novel translated by the same person.

My Verdict


Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney

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