So many of these stories broke me. But you knew that was going to be the case when Batiz prefaces her collection with a letter to the reader, telling us these stories were born out of personal pain and that it would be her honour to guide us on a journey that will leave us forever changed.
And first story out of the gate did just that: Jason. I was so close to crying while sitting in a restaurant eating lunch, so vivid was this mother’s grief. Her beloved son dead by suicide. The grief through every inch of this story was palatable.
In Broken we have a mother desperately looking for her missing daughter. “You’re an open wound oozing despair.”
Old Wounds: Possibly my favourite, but there are so many more in this collection that were favourites for me too. “But now that I’ve been cooped up with nowhere to go, I’ve discovered that being locked up is not the real punishment. No. The real punishment is having time to think. To count your mistakes.” “Fresh wounds open old wounds, I guess.” This story was as close to perfection that I could think of.
The writing inside is stunning, how do you not reward writing like this? It’s all over the pages in Dear Abuela:
“Will you mind if my tears rain on these pages, if my writing becomes unintelligible? Today, my pen is dripping sorrow.”
“Coming here would be a way to close the family circle and stop history from repeating itself. I couldn’t continue to be a citizen of Fear, you said. Here I’d be far away from all the bad memories. The problem is that, along with the bad memories, the good ones have also stayed behind, and from a distance they both hurt the same.”
“And now you no longer are, and no one will remember you except me, except for me and one day, perhaps, whoever is patient enough to follow the sorrow that dripped from my pen onto this letter.”
In Kamp Westerbork: “We had already removed the pictures from the walls without dusting the tops of the frames and assigned them to appropriate piles. The discolouration of the empty spaces where they had hung made me think of Grandfather – like his framed photographs and paintings, he was longer there, but he had left such a clear mark that even in his absence he was present.”
The final story, Helen’s Truth is a really great imagining of Helen of Troy. “It is no secret to anyone that my departure unleashed the longest, bloodiest war of our time….But as I said before, no woman has ever been the true cause of any war. Proud men, eager to cleanse with blood the affront of my absconding, dragged countless innocent lives towards their untimely end just to satisfy their vanity.”
How can you not put this collection forward for a literary prize? I will be bitterly disappointed to not see this on the Giller Longlist come September.