Family Album is Ecuadorian author Gabriela Alemán’s rollicking follow-up to her acclaimed English-language debut, Poso Wells.
Alemán is known for her spirited and sardonic take on the fatefully interconnected–and often highly compromised–forces at work in present-day South America, and particularly in Ecuador. In this collection of eight hugely entertaining short stories, she teases tropes of hardboiled detective fiction, satire, and adventure narratives to recast the discussion of national identity. A muddy brew of pop-culture and pop-folklore yields intriguing, lesser-known episodes of contemporary Ecuadorian history, along with a rich cast of unforgettable characters whose intimate stories open up onto a vista of Ecuador’s place on the world stage.
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Mystery, politics, and intrigue flourish in Latin American fiction
Memorable characters abound in “Family Album,” a collection of eight witty, compact, and highly entertaining stories by Gabriela Alemán, translated by Dick Cluster and Mary Ellen Fieweger. In “Family Outing,” one of the best of the bunch, an oil worker in Louisiana, needing to flee the country for unspecified reasons, takes a job in the Ecuadorian jungle providing protection to a group of overzealous young missionaries who want to convert the local Indigenous people, an endeavor that ends in violence.
Immediately notable are Alemán's terse titles that might initially seem oblique, but connections--ironic, sly and downright guffaw-inducing--bring rewarding reveals to careful readers. The opening story, for example, is "Baptism" and begins with a sunken treasure hunt using "Robinson Crusoe's map," and settles into an 81-year-old's hopeful longing to breathe underwater, despite having a single lung. "Family Outing" exposes a group of missionaries, dropping in via helicopter on an isolated Amazonian tribe--arriving in the name of God, armed and dangerous. In "Marriage," a new widow, who thought she'd married a "loser," learns the dead man was a wealthy coke addict (perhaps dealer) who had children she never knew existed. A woman in "Honeymoon" brings home a distraught stranger from a documentary screening only to be told after she sleeps with him that he's that Lorena's husband, John Wayne Bobbit.
On Family Album | A Conversation with Gabriela Alemán
Here is a conversation with Alemán and the two translators of these sometimes whimsical, sometimes terrifying portraits.