The Rooftop

In the chilling, spare-but-oh-so-dense novel The Rooftop, Uruguyan writer Fernanda Trías introduces Clara--her name a sharp contrast to her uncertainty, her unknowing. Clara recounts the life that she announces on the opening page "came to an end today." Once upon a time, Clara recalls, "I had a life before this one, a job, a flat, which I now remember nothing about." For the last four years, she's been trapped in a small apartment in an unnamed location, caring for her bedridden father and his caged canary ever since his wife, Clara's stepmother, Julia, died. Clara became mysteriously pregnant and hoped the baby's arrival could mean "We'll be a family again," but the news left Dad "pout[ing] like a petulant child." He's more interested in going out, an impossibility that elicits Clara's rage: "There's no sea, no square, no church, no nothing. The world is what's under this roof," she insists.

Clara, too, stopped leaving, convinced of dangers waiting outside. But at least she has the rooftop to which she occasionally escapes. But as money dwindles, Clara loses electricity and is forced to steal water from the building's courtyard. And yet, for a while, moments of joy still seem possible--especially in the unexpectedly delightful exchanges between her daughter, Flor, and her Dad. But paranoia and desperation grow until "there's nothing of us left."

Awarded the National Uruguayan Literature Prize in 2002, Trías is lauded as one of Latin America's most important contemporary literary voices, with multiple award-winning novels and short stories among her oeuvre. The Rooftop marks Trías's English-language debut, smoothly translated by Annie McDermott. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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