I made a terrible mistake for at least half of my reading of Elena Knows (Elena Sabe, in the original Spanish) by the multi-awarded Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle: I desperately look for a mystery/thriller red thread. So desperately that I was about to give up the moment when I figured out that, in fact, the book has a completely different spin. However, as I continued to read the book, I realized that just opening your mind to a book, without counting on any genre-related label may be a much better way to appreciate a story.
Rita is dead. She was found hanging from the church belfry. Her mother, Elena, does not believe the official version of a suicide. Rita always avoided the church on a rainy day and when she died, it was raining. Although coping with an advanced form of Parkinson´s, Elena decided to go to Buenos Aires to meet someone that may know why Rita is dead. Maybe that person is the perpetrator of the crime herself.
´Elena knows that her daughter was murdered. She doesn´t know who did it or why. She can´t figure out the motive. She can´t see it´.
The journey - the storyline and the reading - takes a couple of hours only, but the slow pace is intense because builds up: expectations, mystery, body weights. A confrontations of bodies: Rita´s stiff body being taken down from the church belfry vs. Elena´s body controled by ´Herself´, her illness. The lonely lives of two women, out of which only one, the most fragile is left. Bodies controlled by society, men´s desires, the church and their priests. Bodies that are expected to give birth and be mothers when men are just disappearing. Bodies shaped more by society than by the freedom of desire.
The writing - and subsequently, the translation - is excellent. Elena has a well defined voice and the dramatic references to her body´s decline are deeply emotional. But actually, it is less about Elena, but about Rita and how we react faced with the physical impairment of those we love. Sometimes, the cruelty of life is stronger than the power keeping us alive.
Rating: 3.5 stars