Book Review: Witches by Brenda Lozano

Witches – Brenda Lozano (Catapult, 2022)

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book thanks to the publisher. All opinions are my own. It is available for sale now.

Witches is told in two parallel narrations. The first is Feliciana, a woman living in rural Mexico who grows to be a curandera. We learn how this is different than a witch or a healer as we might understand such a role in the West. Feliciana comes from a long line of curanderos (note the gender difference in the terms; there is an interesting foreword from the book’s translator about this and other translation choices) but she is the first woman to take on the role. Her cousin Paloma was a curendera but because Paloma was born a man there have been crucial differences in the two women.

The other narrator running parallel to Feliciana is Zoe. Zoe is a reporter who has travelled from the city to interview Feliciana. We learn about Zoe’s history as well – her relationship with her father and in particular her connection with her sister Leandra.

There are many similarities between Feliciana and Zoe though their differences may be more obvious. Feliciana is an older woman now, a grandmother and a widow, who continues to live a simple life even as her reputation as a curandera grows. She cannot read or write, she does not speak English or Spanish (her spoken language is never named but she and Zoe communicate through a translator).

Lozano does an excellent job at creating two very distinct voices of these women. Zoe’s is a more typical narration, one we easily recognize and follow. For that reason, I often found her story more engaging, because it was clearer to me what was happening and there was a more linear nature to it. Feliciana’s voice is repetitive and a little mystical. She refers to things like the Language and the Book that represent other things or do not translate to concrete items. Her narrative is slow and unfurling.

I don’t know that I can say I loved this book but I was engaged by both of these women and the surrounding characters were also very well drawn. I read return to Lozano’s work in the future.

This book is translated from the original Spanish by Heather Cleary.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Witches by Brenda Lozano”

  1. I’m never sure what to say about translated works because I don’t know enough about it to understand the translator’s choices. The scary fairy tale book I reviewed recently had TWO translators.

    1. I don’t feel qualified to comment on translations either. I do think it’s interesting to read about the thought process of the translator, especially in a book like this where several key words are left untranslated. The Eighth Life had 2 translators too! But it was enormous so that made sense to me!

    2. I wonder why they have two. Do they challenge each other? Do they collaborate? Does one pick the stories while the other actually translates the languages? I have no clue.

    3. I don’t know either. I would assume they collaborate but maybe they do different sections? Maybe they edit each other? I don’t know much about how translations work.

  2. I love a good translation, but I can see why this one would be a slow-moving and/or complicated. It’s so hard for North Americans to remove the everlasting connotation to the word ‘witch’ and what we imagine in our heads, but it’s such a varied concept in other cultures, which is always fascinating to explore.

    1. After reading the translator’s note I was surprised that the book title was Witch. Within the novel it’s made clear that a curendara is different from a bruja (which would be more like what we in the west think of as a witch). There isn’t really an English term to translate curandera into but titling the book as something the character is clearly stated to not be seemed like a strange choice, particularly with the connotation that word carries to most English speakers.

    2. I would assume so. Probably thinking an English audience needs it to be really blunt! I just finished a book where there is a character who might be called a witch (and others think of her as such) but the book itself calls her a “mender” and I thought that was an interesting term to use.

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