An Elena Ferrante for Mexico?

Meet a writer as good on girlhood as the acclaimed Italian novelist.

[[First: If you care about the Agatha Christie disappearance I wrote about a few weeks ago (all of you apparently), you’ll love this piece the New York Times put out today with clips of the event from their paper. Thank you to reader Selva for sending this over!]]

Hello, it is me; I am back.

Did you like your guest writers? Weren’t they wonderful? Some things are going to be changing in this space fairly soon (more in Friday’s newsletter) so if you loved the guest editions and want to write one please do reach out!! I pay (not that well, but still) and I promise the process is fun and that all of my readers are the best and send lovely notes. (THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO SENT NOTES)

Back to our usual bookshit:


I read the entire Neapolitan novel series in the summer. I came to them a little late, referred by my good friend Andrew, and fell in love. So many people fell in love with those books because they were long and twirling and full of the complex emotions and self-hate and beauty that make up a female friendship. Sure, there was the mystery of who the author was, but when I think about those novels (My Brilliant Friend in particular) I remember how many memories it forced me to confront.

We forget. We forget so much all the time. As girls we are told things constantly that demean us, that enrage us, that break us. As girls we are also separate from our bodies though in a way that women never get to be. We can walk through a park as simply a brain, as simply arms and legs that scale a tree, as simply people. And then one day, sometimes overnight, something changes and we can no longer be simply anything at all.

My Brilliant Friend was so beautiful to me (and to many women I know) because it laid out that girlhood and those moments when it became fragile just before it shattered completely in a way that no other novels I had ever read had. (It is also, of course, very good on class and the effect of money on a girl’s future)

I spent last week in Mexico for vacation. Some of it we spent in Oaxaca and some in Mexico City. In a large bookstore with oak shelves and low lighting, I found a shelf in the English reader section (a sad sub-section of a beautiful bookstore of stories I wanted to read but could not because of my embarrassing monolingual mind) of books by Mexican authors that had been translated.

I picked up a couple and finished one I loved this morning The Body Where I was Born by Guadalupe Nettel. The book is auto-fiction. I’ve written about auto-fiction and the collapse of genre and the “state of memoir” here before so we will just link to this and not rehash it.

Nettel writes about her childhood in Mexico City and in Aix de Provance in France. She writes about her parents 70s hippie behavior and how it effected her. She writes about her interactions with other girls and the birthmark on her left eye that made it useless and her special.

Her writing style is more clinical and less florid than Ferrante’s but where the two are identical is in their ability to force me personally to remember feelings of my childhood, to recall up experiences I had forgotten and describe them accurately and painfully. Here are a couple examples:

I identified fully with the main character in [Kafka’s] the Metamorphosis, since what happened to him was similar to what happened to me. One morning, I too woke up with a different life, a different body, not knowing what it was I had turned into.

And….

The bodies where we are born are not the same bodies that we leave the world in. I’m not only referring to the infinite number of times our cells divide, but to more distinctive features — these tattoos and scars we add with our personality and convictions, in the dark, by touch, as best we can, without direction or guidance.

This is the first book I’ve read of Nettel’s, and one of the few of her books translated into English, but I plan to read the other. There’s something beautiful and terrible in the reality that the process of puberty is terrible no matter where you write from. ((This piece by Callum Angus that I found this morning is a good ode to Nettel’s work.))

Anyway, I recommend this book! It’s good! You can buy it here.

Happy Tuesday!

K