Life changes at the orphanage the day seven-year-old Marina shows up. She is different from the other girls: at once an outcast and object of fascination. As Marina struggles to find her place, she invents a game whose rules are dictated by a haunting violence.
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.