By Hana Zittel
Published Issue 121, January 2024
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, Translated by Megan McDowell (2017)
Mariana Enríquez’s first work translated into English from the Spanish arrived in 2017 in this collection of twelve haunting and gruesome stories set in Argentina. In the opening story, a middle-class woman residing in her family home in the Constitución neighborhood is a bit proud that she is able to navigate this tough part of the city, knowing who to talk to and who not to, and making friends with outcasts that call the neighborhood home. When she notices a sullen, dirty young boy and his mother sleeping on a mattress outside her house, she starts to wonder more deeply about their situation. Left alone one day, she intervenes, taking him out to ice cream. When they return his mother is irate, holding a broken glass and ready to attack, and the woman rushes inside. The next day, the boy, his mother, and the mattress vanish. A week later, a decapitated, tortured body of a young boy is discovered in the neighborhood. The woman becomes obsessed over his disappearance, terrified that the body possibly belongs to the boy. She is consumed with guilt that she missed a chance to save him and questions if she is cut out to live in that neighborhood after all.
Enríquez continually darkens her stories throughout the collection, tightening the suspense and weaving eerie spiritual and monstrous encounters. In one tale, a tour guide responsible for the murder tour in Buenos Aires begins seeing the ghost of one of the more chaotic and brutal murderers from his script on his bus. The turn-of-the-century serial murderer is known as the Big-Eared Runt who killed children just because he liked it. The tour guide sees deeper into the symbolism of his murders as, “a foretaste of evils to come, a warning that there was much more to the country than palaces and estates; he was a slap in the face to the provincialism of the Argentine elites who worshiped Europe and believed only good things could come from the magnificent and yearned-for old country.” In “The Inn,” two girls attempt an innocent prank, but encounter ghosts in an old dictatorship-era police academy turned inn, a former site of torture and disappearances. In one of the most macabre stories in the collection, a disgraced social worker swears she sees a boy held captive at a nearby apartment, chained up outside. Her mind spirals at the horror she imagines happening to him, stimulated by the trauma she has heard through her former work, leading to a rescue plan and building to a situation that turns out more grisly than her darkest nightmares.
Mariana Enríquez so masterfully crafts suspense and delivers twists so disturbing that entering into the next story from the last feels like emerging from the depths of another world. Since the release of Things We Lost in the Fire, Enríquez’s additional short story collection, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, was released in English in 2021. Her first novel translated into English, Our Share of Night, was released in 2023 appearing on many best of lists including The New York Times Ten Best Horror Books of the Year list.
Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed (2023)
“What is your heart’s deepest desire?”
In Deena Mohamed’s fantastical Cairo the ability to mine and use the power of wishing rules everyday life. Previously only used by indigenous peoples, colonization has led to wishes being commoditized, abused and integrated into the machinery of capitalism. The quality of each wish is directly proportional to its expense, with wish classes ranging from first to third, with third class wishes now banned in Egypt due to the level of danger and mishaps they have caused.
Shorky manages a kiosk in Cairo and has inherited three first class wishes from his father. He believes religious principles forbid him from using these wishes and has decided to sell them. Shubeik Lubeik follows Shorky’s journey with the three wishes, each sold to individuals seeking to fulfill their innermost desires and needs — from Nour, a college student grappling with the waves of a deep depression to Aziza left in deep debt after the death of her husband to Shawqia facing the impending death of her sick children.
Deena Mohamed’s graphic novel paints a beautiful portrait of humanity and kindness, creating an entire fantasy universe with intricately crafted laws and profound magical components. She skillfully fluctuates between black and white and color, creating lively panels that illuminate the already superb world-building. Mohamed’s patient and careful storytelling make Shubeik Lubeik a heartfelt venture into the power of want and desire.
Hana Zittel is a librarian at the Denver Public Library in addition to being a librarian at the Denver Zine Librarian. She grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and pretty much just likes being outside with her pup when she has some free time, and reading, that might have been assumed though.