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Our Dead World

Our Dead World

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Our Dead World

124 pages
1 hour
May 26, 2017


A young woman suffers a mental breakdown because of her repressive and religious mother. A group of children is fascinated by the sudden death of a friend. A drug trafficking couple visits Paris at the same time as a psychopathic cannibal. A mysterious wave travels through a university campus, driving students to suicide. A photographer witnesses a family’s surface composure shatter during a portrait session. A worker on Mars sees ghostly animals in the desert and longs for an impossible return to Earth. A plastic surgeon botches an operation and hides on a sugar cane plantation where indigenous slavery is practiced.

Horror and the fantastic mark the unstable realism of Our Dead World, in which altered states of consciousness, marginalized peoples, animal bodies, and tensions between tradition and modernity are recurring themes. Liliana Colanzi’s stories explore those moments when the civilized voice of the ego gives way to the buzzing of the subconscious, and repressed indigenous history destabilizes the colonial legacy still present in contemporary Latin America.

Colanzi is considered by critics to be one of the most promising voices of the new Latin American narrative, and this book is an ambitious formal and thematic leap.

May 26, 2017

About the author

Liliana Colanzi (Bolivia, 1981) has published the story collections Permanent Vacation (2010) and ​Our Dead World (2014). In 2015 she won the Aura Estrada Prize​, awarded to writers under 35 years old living in the United States or Mexico. Colanzi is considered by critics to be one of the most promising voices of the new Latin American narrative, and this book is an ambitious formal and thematic leap.

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Our Dead World - Liliana Colanzi


The Eye

She hadn’t liked him ever since he stood her up at the last minute during a group project the first year of college. I’m sick, he said over the phone with the neutral tone of someone who isn’t asking for sympathy, and she offered to do the work. That night, driving home in her mother’s car—job done and carefully copied onto a flash memory stick—she saw him walking down the street next to a goth girl, hands in his pockets and gaze fixed on some point in the distance. The girl looked to her like a vampire on stilts, moving her hands agitatedly as she spoke, while the boy limited himself to agreeing with small nods. They disappeared into the darkness.

Paralyzed, she stood in the middle of traffic, too stunned to decide whether to keep going or call out to the boy from the car window. Later, during dinner with her mother, she went back again and again to that image, to his attentive expression and that girl dressed in black like a magpie or widow. She felt nauseous.

You’re acting strange, her mother said, peering at her over the plate of raviolis. You’ve done something.

I’m just tired.

Is it a boy? her mother insisted, and the girl shook her head and blushed. Her mother checked the car’s mileage every day to make sure she wasn’t going anywhere during the hours she was supposed to be at university.

Her mother kept talking:

The Enemy may be disguised as an angel, but his true face is terrible. Don’t ever forget you carry his mark on your forehead. He knows your name and can hear you call.

Her mother made the sign of the cross. The girl choked on a ravioli and hiccupped.

Show me your hands, her mother ordered.

Mama, she protested nervously, but her mother insisted. The girl reluctantly placed her freckled hands with their bitten nails on the checked tablecloth. Her mother inspected them, then with a quick movement brought them up to her nose.

Enough! yelled the girl, breaking away and running to her room. She locked the door and threw herself face down on the bed, where her dolls—gifts from her mother she didn’t dare throw out—watched her with their merciless glass eyes. The weight of the boy’s betrayal still overwhelmed her. When the professor had explained a few days before that the work would be done in a group, she’d immediately approached him: she’d chosen him. It was the first time in her life she’d taken the initiative. When she thought about how she’d risked lying to her mother so she could meet him, about the understanding she’d shown when he mentioned his illness, about the time she’d taken to do his part of the project, about the gaudy makeup of the goth girl, something in her became agitated, like she was in the presence of a viper. The world was suddenly a hostile place. She wanted to graduate with honors and apply for a doctorate abroad, distancing herself forever from her mother’s vigilance and her Eye that took in everything. The boy’s lie was a personal affront, an attack on the future she’d designed for herself. It went against her idea of happiness and the world, and suddenly she felt impotent and cheated and on the verge of tears.

She ran to the bathroom, hoisted her foot on the toilet bowl and lifted up her skirt. She took the razor and without breathing made a crosswise cut on her thigh where some old scars were fading. She gave herself three, four, five quick slaps on the face, until the bathroom mirror returned an image of burning cheeks. Then she tucked her hair behind her ears, cleaned the blood from her thigh with a piece of toilet paper, flushed it away and went back to bed, where she stayed reading Maria Simma’s The Marvelous Secret of the Souls in Purgatory until she fell asleep.

The next day she arrived in class with the work printed out. She’d erased the boy’s name, and she looked forward to his reaction when he discovered the consequences of his lie; the final project was crucial to passing the class. She imagined his confusion when he realized he’d been found out, stammering excuses before finally accepting the evidence of his deception. She’d let him beg a little before writing his name on the cover again in a final gesture of generosity, to show him she knew how to forgive. Only then would the order of things be restored. But the boy never came back to class, and she ended up turning in the work without his name. She didn’t hear anything else about him, and didn’t attempt to get close to anyone again.

By then her mother had started to sniff her underwear behind her back, and insisted on dropping her off at the door of her university and picking her up every day, despite her protests. My mother’s right, thought the girl. I carry a mark that separates me from the rest, like fire. There’s no way to erase or disguise it. So she blindly buckled down to achieve perfect grades, until one day a professor told her to stay after class, then informed her she wouldn’t receive top marks even though she’d completed all the assignments.

Miss, you need to learn how to disobey, said the professor, looking at her impatiently. In other words, you need to learn to think for yourself. That’s not the same as memorizing.

The girl—who loved and feared her professor—blushed violently, clutched her bag to her chest, and said nothing.

You confuse intelligence with memory, continued the professor.

The girl didn’t lift her eyes. Her lips trembled imperceptibly. The afternoon light made suspended particles of dust shimmer in the air.

That’s what I wanted to tell you, said the professor.

The girl murmured an apology and ran to shut herself in one of the bathroom stalls. The walls were covered with overlapping scrawls: Slut whoever reads this long live dick Yeni sees visions FEMEN long live MOVEMENT FOR SOCIALISM free, beautiful and mad women I’M GOING TO KILL YOU MISERABLE SLUT. Her heart beat madly. She bent over the broken toilet seat and pushed two fingers down to the bottom of her throat. The food from lunch came up with hardly any effort, turned to yellow mush. She used her fingers to spit up a bitter liquid that burned her throat, but relief was some time in coming. From the toilet bowl, emerging in the middle of a bubble of vomit, she saw it appear. The Eye. It was missing an eyelid, but in the dark blue iris the girl recognized the gaze—mocking? threatening?—of her mother. The Eye—was it possible?—smiled. She pulled the handle. A stream of water carried the Eye and everything else away. Before leaving the bathroom, the girl looked several times over her shoulder to make sure the Eye didn’t appear again, floating up from the pipes.

Starting that day all her senses were sharpened. She waited for what was going to happen, because something was clearly going to happen: the Eye must have woken for something important. The Eye—she understood—was the signal. That’s why she didn’t suffer or cut her thighs when the professor gave her a mediocre mark on the final project—with only one comment: Think!—or become worried when she noticed her mother was spending more and more time embroidering the nightgown she wanted to wear at the moment of her death. No doubt her mother was also waiting.

A few days before Christmas, she ran into the boy on a street in the center of town. She was walking, looking at the fake snow in the shop windows, when they bumped into each another. He greeted her like they’d seen each other every day over the last few months. During that time, she noted, his face had lost the roundness of childhood. It was a beautiful face, sharp-featured and distant, the face of someone who isn’t completely an adult but is no longer a boy. She instinctively reached her hand to her purse. He said he was going to the movie theater, and it didn’t surprise her when he invited her to come along. She thought of her mother waiting at home, looking at the kitchen clock at increasingly brief intervals, embroidering the nightgown at staggering speed. But she kept walking with the boy. They didn’t talk much. She asked shyly why he’d dropped out. He said he’d been bored and that now he had a rock band. She didn’t have much to add; luckily, the boy was wearing his iPod earbuds. At the ticket office they paid separately. It was the matinee and some boys in front were entertaining themselves throwing popcorn in the air. The lights had hardly gone out, bloody letters announcing the name of the film, when his fingers closed over her thigh. You are the one who comes and seizes, she thought, and

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