Review: The Loop by Brenda Lozano, translated by Annie McDermott

“Writing is my way of being a cat and shedding fur, or phrases, onto the armchair.”

“My notebook is my guitar though its not always in tune.”

“My notebook is my waiting room.”

My Interest

I have been keeping an eye out for interesting books for Spanish and Portuguese Lit month and this one sounded very interesting. I admit I had a few qualms about “stream of consciousness” though. It won an award called PEN Translates which aims to encourage UK publishers to bring out more books translated from other languages. (It is not the same as the Pen Translation Prize).

The Story

“Unlearning yourself is more important than knowing yourself.”

“Does this story contain all the stories I am?”

“Waiting. It never stars, never ends. We never arrive. We arrive somewhere like Lisbon, but never at a conclusion.”

“The foreign country of adult life.”

The narrator is recovering from some sort of accident. Her guy, Jonas, is away. This gives rise to her telling lots of interesting bon mots, some little stories, little notes, factoids, vignettes, a bit of narrative, a few paragraphs, facts or factoids populate most of this story–most with a good deal of reflection on life. All are written in the ideal notebook while she is recovering. Some repeat a bit on a sort of loop, but I have no idea if that is why the title was chosen.

Some favorite quotes:

“I remember there’s a point in Waiting for Godot when the characters swap hats again and again. A bit like politicians.” [see the bottom of this post]

“What would the ideal politician be like?…Instead we are stuck with cartoons. And they do too much harm.”

“Neurotic people who need positions of power. Stupid people who need someone even more stupid next to them. Insecure people need the approval of strangers. Loyal people surrounded by traitors.”

“Its almost like childhood is the origin of fiction: describing any past event over and over to see how far away you’re getting from reality.”

My Thoughts

Having just endured that “surreal” mess translated from Spanish, I went into this one a bit leery, but was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I thought the premise worked very well. I was often able to relate to what the author was thinking or “saying” in that notebook of hers. I wish I’d bought this so I can keep all the quotes I highlighted in the e-text of this book. It was such fun.

The Loop by Brenda Lozano, translated by Annie McDermott

My Verdict



Spanish/Portuguese Lit Month Review: Portrait of an Unknown Lady by Maria Gainza translated by Thomas Bunstead

My Interest

In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed participating each July in Spanish and Portuguese Literature challenges hosted by blogger Winston’s Dad, so this year I kept a look out for new books to for this challenge.  The NY Times list of new translated books caught my attention. This book was in it and, happily, was novella length, and (best of all) was about 4 1/2 hours on audio. Perfect for my current attention span!


The Story

What caught my eye about the story, beyond being set in Argentina (a country I have not “read” before) and being translated into Spanish, was that it concerned the art world–especially high-priced forgeries–those who create them and those who track them down and expose them. Instead the story is a rambling, disjointed mess of thoughts, text, and occasionally happenings.

My Thoughts

I think the world “surreal” was thrown in there somewhere in what I read about this book and I should have headed it. Like theatre of the absurd that one word says it all–surreal. Or, to my mind, ridiculous. Much of the book was a boring recital of the descriptions of pieces of art in a gallery or sale catalog. Interspersed between these entries were seemingly random about the art work such as: “The swollen mouths anticipate the rash of Botox use in the city 50 years later.”  Ok…. Then there was the need to intrude–no force into our brains the image that one piece of art was rumored to be used by its owner as a mastra—–y aid. ICK to the nth degree. This line told all I needed to know about this book–it was published because of who the author is and not because it is at all creative. It is just a mess. I finished it so you don’t have to.

My Verdict

2 stars

Portrait of an Unknown Lady: A Novel by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead

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

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month 2021


Thank you to Winston’s Dad’s Blog for hosting this event.

My Interest

I’ve enjoyed reading literature in translation all of my adult life, starting with Russian literature and philosophers in my long-ago B.A. Today I enjoy these themed reading moths or challenges just to shake up my reading choices a little and to expand my mind. I had a good bit of study on Latin America long ago in college, too, but Spain and Portugal are not well known to me. Brazilian Portuguese literature interests me because my mother spent part of her childhood in Brazil.

This year, print reading is not going very well. I have hit dud after dud (at least to me–none are necessarily bad books, they just weren’t right for me at that moment). Audio books, now that I’m back commuting, are how much of my “reading” is enjoyably accomplished. Sadly, this is not a challenge that lends itself to audio books. Supply/demand interferes. Last year I found a good “beach read” from Spain in translation and I was hoping for something similar this year, but no luck–at least not in the time I had to give to the research.

Instead I’ve identified one Latin American author’s book of essays in translation (reading more essays is a goal for this year) a Spanish travel book (by the author of the introduction to the book of essays–a coincidence),  and a Brazilian Portuguese diary in translation that both sound interesting and short enough to be possible. There were a few in audio but all were 14 or so hours. I did not want that long of a “listen” right now. All of the fiction seemed too depressing or terrifying. That may change as the month goes on.

My Possibilities

As of right now, here are the three I’ve decided to try. I may end up DNF or loving them or finding something else entirely!

Roads to Santiago by Cees Nooteboom

Roads to Santiago is an evocative travelogue through the sights, sounds, and smells of a little known Spain-its architecture, art, history, landscapes, villages, and people. And as much as it is the story of his travels, it is an elegant and detailed chronicle of Cees Nooteboom’s thirty-five-year love affair with his adopted second country.”

The Diary of  Helena Morely

Originally published in 1942 under the title Minha Vida de Menina—Portuguese meaning “My Life as a Little Girl or “Young Girl”—this book is a diary that was kept by the author, Helena Morley (pseudonym of Alice Dayrell Caldeira Brant), when she was between the ages of twelve and fifteen (1893-1895), and living in Diamantina, a small diamond mining town in southeastern Brazil.

Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli

““A beautiful, meandering collection of essays full of filaments of brilliance on everything from literature, philosophy, traveling in graveyards, to untranslatable words. The book is full of deep insights yet remains unpretentious throughout.”—Publishers Weekly

Last Year’s Spanish Lit Month Posts

Spanish Lit Month 2020

Spanish Lit Month Review: This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets

Are you participating in Spanish & Portuguese Lit Month this year? Have you in the past? Leave me a comment or a link(s) to your own post(s).

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑