Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!
First up is a post by Rachel S. Cordasco who a Ph.D. in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has taught courses in American and British literature, and Composition. She runs the Speculative Fiction in Translation. website.
Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press)
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 43%
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 8%
Mix together zombies, pharmaceutical research, and rare psychiatric illnesses, and you have the basis for one of the most original, brilliant, and entertaining reads of the year, if not the decade. Told in fragments—diary entries, interviews, first-hand accounts, botanical notes—Wicked Weeds is the story of a “gentleman zombie” trying to disguise the fact that he’s not actually alive and using his position at a pharmaceutical research lab to secretly uncover a concoction that could bring him fully back to life.
But this is no gross-zombies-lurching-around-trying-to-eat-brains kind of zombie novel. Rather, it’s a sophisticated exploration of the mind-body duality, the place of zombies in popular culture, the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the study of plant-human interactions. At times hilarious, horrifying, and mesmerizing, Wicked Weeds plunges us into multiple perspectives, cheekily pressing us to reconsider our assumptions about how we know what is real and how we think about ourselves.
In the world, everything happens to me. I am the collection of reactions and emotions aroused by the farce put on by my brain—like one who plays chess with himself. Wouldn’t it be fair to say of love, hate, hope, pleasure, and, in short, of all emotions unleashed in answer to the existence of that supposed “exterior world” of which our senses speak to us—wouldn’t it be fair to say of them the same thing we’ve said of colors? Is it possible that existence is not a feat of balance? Created from nothing, sustained by nothing, and sought by nothing, aren’t we, every single one of us, but a single step away from dissolution? what separates us from the void?
Nothing separates us from the void. We carry it within.
We are the void.
So is the main character really a zombie? (I won’t spoil this for you—you need to read it yourself). Cabiya makes us think beyond the physicality of reviving a corpse and asks us to think of zombification in multiple dimensions: what does it feel like to try to pass as someone you’re not? What is that specific spark (for lack of a better word) that turns “animated” into “alive”? How is a zombie different from an AI or a wooden doll and why are these differences important? At one point, the narrative launches into a short treatise on the nature of the brain and its interactions with the body in order to further probe the ways in which the human body functions as one while seeing itself as two (mind and body).
I haven’t even scratched the surface here in expressing the depth, humor, and brilliance of this book. And Jessica Powell’s translation is exquisite, achieving that goal of making the reader think that the novel was originally written in her own language.
Those of you who have read my reviews in the past know that I only do cartwheels over a tiny fraction of the books that I read. Wicked Weeds is cartwheel material, dear reader. It should win.
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