Siamese fighting fish, cockroaches, cats, a snake, and a strange fungus all serve here as mirrors that reflect the unconfessable aspects of human nature buried within us. The traits and fates of these animals illuminate such deeply natural, human experiences as the cruelty born of cohabitation, the desire to reproduce and the impulse not to, and the inexplicable connection that can bind, eerily, two beings together. Each Nettel tale creates, with tightly wound narrative tension, a space wherein her characters feel excruciatingly human, exploring how the wounds we incur in life manifest themselves within us, clandestinely, irrevocably, both unseen and overtly.
In a precise writing style that is both subtle and spellbinding, Nettel renders the ordinary unsettling, and the grotesque exquisite. Natural Histories is the winner of the 3rd Ribera del Duero International Award for Short Narratives, an important Spanish literature prize.
I’ve been a biology professor at the Universidad de Valle de México for over ten years. I specialize in insects. Some people in my field of research have pointed out to me that when I’m in the laboratory or lecture hall I almost always keep to the corners of the room. It’s like when I’m walking along a street; I feel safer if I’m near a wall. Though I can’t explain exactly why, I’ve begun to think it’s a habit born of the depths of my nature. My fascination for insects emerged at a young age, when I was about eleven and passing from childhood into adolescence. My parents had recently split up, and as neither one of them was psychologically sound enough to be responsible for the mistake they had engendered together, they decided to send me to live with my mom’s older sister, my aunt Claudine, who had managed to build a functional family with two disciplined, tidy, and studious sons. I knew their house well. It was part of a middle-class housing complex with American dreams, as my dad would say. Very different from the place where I’d been born and had spent eleven long years. My house and my aunt’s were opposite in every way. . . .
Excerpted from Natural Histories by Guadalupe Nettel; translated from the Spanish by J. T. Lichtenstein. Copyright © 2014 by Guadalupe Nettel. Excerpted by permission of Seven Stories Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
The Marriage of the Red Fish 11
War in the Trash Cans 41
The Snake from Beijing 103
Table of Contents
"This book deserves to have a large readership and all the praise it has received and will receive in the future."—Jordan Hoxsie, Goodreads
"The writing is straightforward and rich with meaning and detail, the theme shines through and the ending satisfies and completes the short tale. Her descriptions of cats were spot on and had me watching my two cat brothers more carefully! I continued to enjoy the collection as a whole, although some of the endings left me wanting a bit more. I hope to read more from this accomplished writer."—Karen Michele, Goodreads
"It's a slim volume of short stories, all having as part of their themes how human behavior can be explained by examples from animals. They are also stories about love relationships, and although they don't all have happy endings, they are written with tenderness and an understanding of human nature. Best reading I've had lately!"—Catherine, Goodreads
"Exploring coincidental relationships between people and the lives of their pets, these stories are vibrant and full of emotional resonance. I look forward to the author's first translated novel next year. Kudos on the great translation as well."—Chris Haggqvist
"I thoroughly enjoyed all of the short stories of this book. I loved the dark, but real themes that this book contained."—Matthew, Goodreads
"Simply beautiful."—Vanessa, Goodreads
"Absolutely beautiful. I haven't read a collection of short stories this good yet."—Barbie, Goodreads
About Guadalupe Nettel
One of the most talked-about writers of contemporary Mexican fiction, GUADALUPE NETTEL is a Bogotá 39 author and Granta “Best Untranslated Writer.” Her novels and collections of short stories have received international critical acclaim and won awards in both Europe and Latin America, including the Mexican Gilberto Owen National Literature Prize and the Antonin Artaud Prize. Natural Histories, for which she won the 2013 Ribera del Duero Short Fiction Award, and her novel The Body Where I was Born (Seven Stories Press, 2015) are her first books to be published in English. Nettel lives in Mexico City.
"Nettel creates marvelous parallels between the sorrows and follies of her human characters and the creatures they live with."—Carmela Ciuraru, The New York Times
"The gaze [Nettel] turns on madnesses both temperate and destructive, on manias, on deviances, is so sharp that it has us seeing straight into our own obsessions."—Xavier Houssain, Le Monde
"Guadalupe Nettel is one of the most interesting voices of the new Mexican fiction."—J.A. Masoliver Ródenas, La Vanguardia
"Seasoned readers will delight in this literary voice, new to the landscape of Latin American literature, a voice sophisticated as it is original."—Arcadia
"Guadalupe Nettel reveals the subliminal beauty within beings of odd behavior and painstakingly examines the intimacies of her soul."—Magazine Littéraire
"It has been a long time since I've found in the literature of my generation a world as personal and untransferable as that of Guadalupe Nettel."—Juan Gabriel Vásquez
"The career of this young storyteller is worth keeping an eye on. A master of style, with a marvelous poetic naturalism, her ideas and manners distinguish her from what we are accustomed to in Mexican literature."—Joaquin Marco, El Cultural
“Guadalupe Nettel’s stories treat us with a gentle irony—skillfully translated by JT Lichtenstein—to the secret correspondences between the surface of nature’s quirky wisdom (from cats to fungi) and the sad, funny, fragile, resilient human condition. The epigraph from Pliny the Elder cuts to the core of these magnetic pieces, each discrete and yet somehow connecting: ‘All animals know what it is they need, except for man.’”—Suzanne Jill Levine, University of California at Santa Barbara
"Beautifully translated from the Spanish by J. T. Lichtenstein Natural Histories delivers everything you want from a short story collection. Guadalupe Nettel’s storytelling power is majestic. With an unflinching eye, time and time again, she drives readers on an exploratory safari into the heart of human nature. Funny, touching, terrifying, horrific and/or sad-you never know what you’ll find when you tentatively set out in search of potential dangers, but one thing is abundantly clear: safe in her skilled hands, each journey holds the promise of being a life changing event."—Typographical Era
"These stories are an interesting, arresting study of how their lives mirror our own."—Gretchen Wagner, San Francisco Book Review
"One that stood out for me in particular among these very good books is Natural Histories by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by J. T. Lichtenstein. Nettel is a wonderful Mexican writer, and each of the stories in this slim collection, published by Seven Stories, takes a wry philosophical look at the relationship between people and the creatures they live with – whether a pair of pet fish or an infestation of cockroaches."—Jonathan Lee, Electronic Literature