Every story reveals the way that the habits of everyday life can become unknowable and unpredictable. Recently rediscovered, Sara Gallardo is a major Latin American writer whose stories delve into magical realism.
It is tempting to file the remarkable stories in Sara Gallardo’s Land of Smoke under 'magic realism' and close the drawer. But that would be an incomplete reading of the collection and a misreading of the genre, an elastic label that offers a rather easy recipe for critics — have people; add wings. Which is not to say Gallardo’s fiction has no wings ... The story suggests a blurry moral and reads like a highly orchestrated dream. Gallardo, on the other hand, wants us to believe ... Frankly, not much happens, and it’s only two pages long. But it flies. Almost a sketch, the story achieves a brief, uncanny completeness, which proves typical of the nearly fifty more (very) short stories in the collection. Read them sequentially and they accrue something more than magic, they radiate a marvelously strange mythopoetic intensity. The book is a bible.
The stories usually end with an abrupt twist. Gallardo always makes her purpose known this way. She writes with an air of authority (which Jessica Sequeira has translated from Spanish brilliantly) that begs your trust when she writes that trains can dream or that horses can murder ... the detailed settings and the depths of human experience (even when characters are not human) remain timeless ... Gallardo’s succinct descriptions define the tangible—the weather, the landscape, the physical circumstances—while her plots are fantastical. The former grounds the latter, making anything seem possible.
Gallardo’s meticulous returns to the historical moments in which her texts unfold rescues her work from the whimsy which some of her Latin American contemporaries use as a default mode ... Some of the stories, which span the centuries, are less than a page long ... poignant and emblematic ... Along with violence and melancholy there’s humour here as well ... The very short story, at which Gallardo excels, is a gift to the poet as it makes no necessary demands of narrative muscle ... But in this story the reader might well feel, after a twenty-page journey, deprived of the conventional satisfactions that parts of the narration, and its Perrault-like title, promise ... there are times, as in this story, when the reader has the feeling of being lost in a vaguely nightmarish dream that doesn’t quite reveal the reason for its own menace ... it was evidently the author’s intent to create her own variant of a many-voiced ocean of stories in the manner of the ancients, with facets that echo, reflect, and collide with each other. It’s a massively ambitious, and often successful, task.