A Mexican bard - Richard Gilbert
Mexico’s acclaimed writer Daniel Sada, who died in 2011, wrote nine novels in Spanish. One Out of Two is the second to be translated to English, both by Katherine Silver. William Shakespeare would have applauded this story, which can be viewed as a marvelous mashup of two plays: The Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing. The Gamal sisters, twin seamstresses, enjoy confusing people about their identities. Their small world in Ocampo, Chihuahua (Mexico), is upended one day when a suitor named Oscar Segura enters the picture—but exactly which sister is he courting, Gloria or Constitución? Using this mixed-up charade as a springboard, Sada spins a yarn that weaves in zingers about love, lust, sex, identity, profession, gender roles, weddings, marriages, funerals, ancestors, truth, deception, forgetting, and the passage of time. Ingenious metaphors explore broader themes: individualism, collectivism, symbiosis, codes of honor, and values. The storyteller’s clear distinctive voice spinning this comical tale is compelling. One can practically visualize the narrator’s arms waving dramatically, eyes rolling in exasperation and widening in anticipation, while the plot advances. One method Sada used involves unique punctuation such as repeated colons—often two, three, or four in the same sentence—to give the narrator’s delivery an attitude. Sada also applied quite liberally the one-em dash for emphasis and ellipses for pauses. Toying with these marks allows a skilled author to develop an almost audible speech pattern by pushing readers to hear words on the page differently. In a similar vein, Norwegian writer Per Petterson totally shunned question marks in his recent novel I Refuse (reviewed), constructing a particular voice that slowly ratcheted up the tension, impelling readers to listen.