According to Goodreads, I read 211 books in 2020. Obviously, it was an escape for me. I read many, many good books last year, but one stood out. I don’t think I would recommend it to most readers, but I at least want to mention it and let people know it’s out there, because it certainly wasn’t marketed very heavily. The book I am talking about is Hurricane Season (2020), by the Mexican author Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes), which depicts the murder of a “witch” (who may have been male or female) in the state of Veracruz in Mexico. Melchor is from Veracruz herself, and she casts perhaps one of the most unsentimental eyes I have ever experienced in literature on her native state in this brief, brutal novel. Hurricane Season was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, but lost out to Dutch author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s The Discomfort of Evening, which I’ve heard is also brutal.
Melchor was born in 1982 and graduated from the Universidad Veracruzana with a degree in journalism. She has published numerous nonfiction articles and reporting in addition to her fiction, so it’s not surprising she has such an unsparing eye. But this is her first novel, and it soon becomes obvious to the reader, as it must have become obvious to Melchor, that fiction can sometimes tell truths that nonfiction and journalism can’t. I’m sure some of the details of this book were gleaned from Melchor’s work in journalism, but through narration she instills deep humanity into incidents that would just come off as statistical in reporting. Melchor has great talent, and a great mind and compassion with it, and the lives she brings to the page might not be exemplary or aspirational in any way, but somehow, while peering into her characters’ evil hearts, we see traits that we ourselves might share.
Some months after I read Hurricane Season, I listened to an interview with Melchor on the Between the Covers podcast. Her intelligence was rapidly apparent, but it was her wisdom and world-weariness that I found most affecting – she sounded like she has witnessed thousands of years of misery, and she’s not even 40. It was an enlightening interview, and it can be found here: