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MBI 2019 Longlist: The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran


The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran

Book 9 from the long list and the first book that all of the panel have read and rated but did we all agree…

Synopsis from Goodreads: Santiago, Chile. The city is covered in ash. Three children of ex-militants are facing a past they can neither remember nor forget. Felipe sees dead bodies on every corner of the city, counting them up in an obsessive quest to square these figures with the official death toll. He is searching for the perfect zero, a life with no remainder. Iquela and Paloma, too, are searching for a way to live on. When the body of Paloma’s mother gets lost in transit, the three take a hearse and a bottle of pisco up the cordillera for a road trip with a difference. Intense, intelligent, and extraordinarily sensitive to the shape and weight of words, this remarkable debut presents a new way to count the cost of a pain that stretches across generations.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am not sure how to describe the writing in this book at points it is dreamy, sometimes trippy, occasionally brutal, frequently darkly humorous and often melancholy.

The story is original not in terms of the road trip plot but in the idea of seeing the dead, counting the dead and making sure that each grave is accounted for and that the dead are not forgotten. The quest for the perfect zero in terms of human lives was intriguing and as Felipe himself puts it impossible to square.

I loved the relationship between Paloma and Iquela and Iquela and Felipe. However in terms of character development the book only looks at a narrow slice of their lives a few days maybe a week at most so we don’t really get to see them change and develop. That said they are all intriguing in their own ways and they are all learning how to deal with things their parents did in the past. Another thing I loved and would have liked to learn more about was the parents revolutionary past and how they all came to have two identities.

In terms of plot I liked the way the book ended by sorting some things but leaving others still open. I can’t say more for fear of spoilers.

Overall this is the kind of weirdly fascinating book that really appeals to me and I enjoyed it immensely. I love the fact that the publishers are independent and rely on sponsors and that every sponsor is mentioned at the end of every book. I would like to say thank you to the publishers (And Other Stories) and all the sponsors as without you I would have missed this gem of a book.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: Another road trip novel- there is a theme developing in the longlist this year. This one is three people (Iquela, Felipe and Paloma)-adult children of Chilean ex-militants- going to Argentina to retrieve the casket of Paloma’s mother.

Felipe sees dead people, and is convinced that he will be dead soon himself. Iquela has an overbearing mother, and wants to finally be an adult, answering to no one. And Paloma wants to get her mother’s body buried.

The writing in this book was beautiful: lyrical and enigmatic. I’m not sure I understood the whole thing, but I really enjoyed the trip. The characters were clearly drawn, and I liked being in Felipe’s and Iquela’s heads for this short novel. The book moved at a steady pace, and the conclusion was satisfying. I wish I knew more about the time after Allende in Chile- I think I would have gotten it better. I plan to watch for more from this author- I’m excited to see what else she has to say.

Writing quality: 4.5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20

Emily’s Thoughts: Of the few I’ve read so far, this was the first book on the list that really blew me away and I can see myself cheering for it on the shortlist (it had better make the shortlist!). Did I always understand what was happening? Not by any means, it took me a long time to work out anything about what was going on or how the characters related to each other, but I didn’t care at all. The writing was poetic, trippy, and it punched me in the gut in all the right places. The characters were so real I didn’t mind not knowing who they all were.

Unlike with the Shape of the Ruins, I didn’t feel like it mattered that I wasn’t up to speed on the historical facts of what was going on in Chile. Drinking in the hallucinatory atmosphere was enough, and I feel like I came to understand something about the vibe of life there in that period. Maybe I just like my political novels dreamy and absurdist!

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20 

Combined Total: 17.3/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?


Love in the New Millennium 18/20
The Remainder 17.3/20
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead 16.5/20
The Faculty of Dreams 14.5/20
Mouthful of Birds 14.5/20
Celestial Bodies 14/20
Four Soldiers 14/20
The Death of Murat Idrissi 10.5/20
At Dusk 9.5/20


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