Paloma is dead. But before she was murdered, before she was even Paloma, she was a traditional healer named Gaspar. Before she was murdered, she taught her cousin Feliciana the secrets of the ceremonies known as veladas, and about the Language and the Book that unlock their secrets. Sent to report on Paloma's murder, Zoe meets Feliciana in the mountain village of San Felipe. There, the two women's lives twist around each other in a danse macabre. Feliciana tells Zoe the story of her struggle to become an accepted healer in her community, and Zoe begins to understand the hidden history of her own experience as a woman, finding her way in a hostile environment shaped by and for men.
The book is beautifully translated. Cleary advisedly leaves in Spanish terms ... The biggest success of Witches is the way she weaves together two distinct voices ... Though the book chronicles violence against women and those who present as women, it highlights, in both rural and urban communities, an atmosphere of freedom and mobility that is a pleasure to read about.
With surprising swiftness, Paloma’s murder fades to the background ... The first-person narration of Witches is digressive and intimate. We feel as though Zoe is speaking directly to us, and Feliciana directly to Zoe. And it’s a testament to both Lozano’s mastery of voice and Cleary’s translation that our two narrators’ voices feel immediately distinct and immersive. Feliciana’s voice is especially idiosyncratic, at first hard to follow, then, with time, poetic in its fluidity ... A wonderfully illuminating translator's note ... At the start of Witches, Zoe promises us a reckoning, a revelation. It never quite materializes. Early on, she says her conversation with Feliciana has transformed her perspective, though by novel’s end it remains unclear exactly how — the connective tissue between their two stories is tenuous, their symmetries never fully teased out ... Witches is a novel, not a piece of reportage, and on the whole Lozano doesn’t so much make critiques as gesture toward them ... Despite all this, Witches sets the ideal stage for Lozano to prove herself as a master of character study. Zoe’s chapters are particularly compelling ... While the precise nature of Zoe’s epiphany, and the role of Feliciana as facilitator, is still nebulous by novel’s end, the overarching theme feels crystal clear. It is, to put it crudely, that women should do — or at least try to do — precisely what they want, no matter the external pressures, expectations, or barriers they face. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking idea, sure, but it is, throughout Witches, quite elegantly illustrated.
Witches is grounded in the perspectives of two women and how they come to locate their own sources of power. Lozano deftly captures these two very different women’s voices as they tell their stories in alternating chapters ... At times it feels that the novel has missed some opportunities for more external action. The actual interaction between Feliciana and Zoe remains somewhat underdeveloped as the story circles instead through each woman’s past. Yet in its final pages, the novel achieves a kind of incantatory power, enacting the alternate forms of knowing that the book is celebrating. In a concise and very insightful forward, the translator, Heather Cleary, reflects upon her choices to leave certain words in Witches untranslated. Cleary’s note functions as a helpful introduction to the text that also serves as a skillful précis about the intersections of language and power with patriarchy and colonialism ... Cleary’s skillful translation of Lozano’s text offers English readers the possibility to read this beautiful novel and contemplate its multiple insights into the nature of language, gender, and power.