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Powerful literary debut by Colombian Lorena Salazar Masso

With The river is a wound full of fish Colombian Lorena Salazar Masso makes a powerful literary debut.

What does it mean to be a mother, when do you actually BE a mother? Can you be a mother even if you did not give birth to your child yourself? As a mother without a child, are you still a mother? That is the theme of the beautiful, atmospheric novel The river is a wound full of fish.

An unnamed mother and her infant son - she is white, he black - travel by boat from Quibdó to Bellavista. It is a long journey down the Atrato, a river that winds through western Colombia, bringing both salvation and devastation to neighbouring villages: 'The Atrato connects markets and separates people. The river washes clothes, feeds you, carries children, bathes women, hides the dead. The river makes no distinction: it blesses and drowns.'

It is a journey that is not risk-free, due to the death and terror that guerrilla movements are sowing across the country. As the journey progresses, shots sound closer and closer.

Terrified

Slowly, the purpose of the mother and child's journey becomes clear: they are on their way to Gina, the boy's biological mother, because she is eager to see him. The unnamed narrator answers that call, but with every metre they get closer to Bellavista, she feels the fear inside rising more violently. She is terrified that she will lose her son and have to hand him over to his 'real' mother.

And that fear becomes even stronger when it turns out that Gina has lost her three other children - the youngest to malaria, the two older ones to the war - and so is now a mother without a child.

30-year-old Lorena Salazar Masso tells a moving story of parenthood in this compelling debut novel. She sprinkles beautiful images and metaphors throughout her book and draws sentences that invite you to pause for a moment: 'I give my boy a mother every day. I hand her over dressed in the clothes I wear to go to the market.'

In addition, The river full of fish also paints a poignant picture of Colombia, especially the department of Chocó, where the electricity goes out at seven o'clock in the evening and the poor people use candles to light up the evening. From a writer who dares to end her first novel the way Lorena Salazar Masso does, we are definitely going to hear more.

Lorena Salazar Masso, The river is a wound full of fish (184 p.). Translated from the Spanish by Irene van Mheen, Signatuur, €24.99.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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