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March 1, 2022

The Wonders by Elena Medel ~ a Review

by MK French

The Wonders by Elena Medel a thought-provoking story

In 1969 Madrid, Maria worked hard to earn money enough to send home for the daughter she left behind with her family. While there, she's caught up in the modern movements within the city, including the political instability. Two decades later, Alicia is working at a snack shop after her father's suicide leads to the loss of the luxurious life she once had. The womens' lives parallel each other, and their paths cross at the 2018 Madrid Women's March.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

cover The Wonders by Elena Medel an award winning debut novel
March 2022; Algonquin Books; 978-1643752112
audio, ebook, print (240 pages); translated fiction

Elena Medel is a literary sensation and poet, and this is her debut novel, which earned the Francisco Umbral Award for Book of the Year. That is a prestigious Spanish literary prize, and this translation by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunstead brings her lyrical style to an English reading audience. 

We have the concerns of economic class, family ties, feminism, and who can give voice in politics all flowing through the novel as both Maria and Alicia struggle against the realities that fight to box them in. 

Modern American readers might not realize how restrictive it was for women, not just from neighbors whispering about an unmarried mother, but laws outlining what women were allowed to wear or jobs they could work in. Maria's story thread in her youth outlines this reality, and Alicia's present has somewhat improved but is still restricted.

The translators kept the European style of writing, with longer paragraphs and dialogue worked into it with colons or commas, as well as separate dialogue tags we're used to. I found it easy to get used to, but I've read translations with a similar style before. 

I could focus on the characters, who start off in their everyday life: Maria cares for other children and leaves her own daughter behind for her family to care for, and Alicia is a married shop-girl dissatisfied with the relationship she has and briefly escapes it by meaningless trysts with the men that pick her up. Dissatisfaction with this leads them elsewhere for fulfillment, and the reader is the one to first notice the possible connection between them.

Maria was always a hard worker hoping to be someone important or have a place in the wider world. Alicia was never really a nice person, taking pleasure in tormenting classmates and thinking herself superior just because she had money, and wasn't motivated to do much of anything aside from keeping busy. I felt bad for Maria for most of her story and didn't really like Alicia, for all that her part of the story drew me in. Thinking about it, though, Carmen had no real connection to others because she had no one consistent to depend on for comfort, so she had nothing to give Alicia. She then lied or taunted others to feel important when she felt nothing at all. It's sad how the little traumas get passed down, and the wonderful things we think we should have in life ultimately mean very little. Maria notes that everything comes down to money and power, and neither of them has it. They're the working class. Everything is a struggle, and every scrap of independence is hard-won and ultimately hidden. Much of those emotions are universal, so American readers will understand the emotions that these women have. 

This is a thought-provoking novel, without an easy resolution. 

Buy The Wonders at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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