Barba inhabits the minds of children with an exactitude that seems to me so uncanny as to be almost sinister ... But the book is by no means without relief, nor is this a cynical exploitation of an atavistic fear of the child ... This is as effective a ghost story as any I have read, but lying behind the shocks is a meditation on language and its power to bind or loosen thought and behaviour ... Barba’s use of genre conventions is both affectionate and knowing ... I wondered how closely Lisa Dillman’s prose mimicked Barba’s lexis and cadence in Spanish ... it is faintly odd, sometimes affectless, the phrasing occasionally slightly awry; but this is so wholly in keeping with the book’s uncanny effects and plays so significant a role in its accumulation of cool terror that I can only assume it is a superbly skillful translation.
Barba gives us two perspectives, both from the point of view of the children in the orphanage ... This may sound rather limiting, a self-imposed handicap on a Faulkneresque experiment in literary form. But it turns out to be liberating ... For Barba, it’s the limits on narrative form that open the door for probing the psychological questions of childhood ... Dillman’s translation is exquisite ... Dillman manages to strike the right balance between not alienating readers with direct translations of labyrinthine Spanish prose while also not changing the meaning, mood, and metaphors of the original ... stunning and beautiful prose.
...a tidily executed project, one with tremendous tonal intimacy and rhythmic language. (Given the lovely and propulsive and inward-turned prose, it’s clear that translator Lisa Dillman has done a masterful job.) ... Barba has intentionally chosen not to hold the readers’ hand and reassure us that yes, the way we feel toward the book – toward Marina, toward the girls – is how we’re supposed to feel ... beautiful very much in the manner of a Sally Mann self-portrait: precise in its plotting and intention, thick with mood and gloom, with a quietly dreadful bizarreness. It’s disarming and strange and wonderfully awful – and constructed very skillfully.
Such Small Hands is a magnificently chilling antidote to society’s reverence for ideas of infantile innocence and purity ... [Barba] drags his readers into a hyper-real world of childhood ... Lisa Dillman’s translation is as evocative as a reader could wish for ... the path is set towards a shocking and bloody denouement worthy of the most spine-tingling horror film.
...part of the power of Such Small Hands comes from the girls’ faith in play-acting, a belief suitable to young characters so isolated that longing exceeds knowledge ...
In Such Small Hands, adroitly translated by Lisa Dillman, Barba is intensely alive to the shifting, even Janus-faced nature of strong feeling.
Barba’s twelfth book creates a narrative similar to other bildungsroman such as Oliver Twist and even Pan’s Labyrinth, maintaining a lyrically rich and devastating portrayal of adolescent struggle ... the novel amplifies the importance of human contact in both a sweet and startling way ... You want to help, scream, bury your face in your hands, but you also can’t fail to notice the poignant valor of an innocent life gasping for air, struggling against forces seemingly greater than us all.
An achievement of brave imagination in which the author creates a world that is measured and experienced without the mediating tool of language ... The terrain of childhood is brilliantly described ... A strange unsettling novel that hews a remarkable sense within itself.
Barba’s descriptions of the furtive, nearly cabalistic world of children are wonderful and disturbing ... His writing is both lyrical and spare, and the slim volume, which can be read in a single sitting, carries a heft far outweighing its physical presence ... A darkly evocative work about young girls, grief, and the unsettling, aching need to belong.
Barba’s prose is both halting and haunting; simple balanced sentences whose opacity hint at an underlying fear and wariness ... Interpret Barba’s elliptical story as you will, but chances are you won’t soon forget it.