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In the 90s I read a collection of short stories by a South American female author (most likely translated to English vs having been written in English originally). I remember the stories were good, and I remember fragments of a few:

  • a person (female?) meditates on a small ornamental table in a hallway, which has flowers on it. There was a death, perhaps? Or a divorce?
  • a woman on a plane is thinking (about...?)
  • an essay about the beauty and perfection of the avian egg
  • a story in which a woman turns on her kitchen light in the middle of the night and finds many cockroaches frozen all over the floor because they have eaten the borax poison she set out and have frozen in place

In general, I think the stories may have tended towards being a bit chilly.

I would like to revisit these stories and know more about this author.

  • How do you know it's a female author? Do you remember a part of her name? – Gallifreyan Jun 4 '17 at 12:31
  • I just remember it was a female author. Maybe her name had an 'La' or 'El' in it. – loopernow Jun 5 '17 at 13:23
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My comment about Borges got me web searching and this time I was able to find the author, by researching South American female contemporaries of Borges. She is Clarice Lispector (b. 1920, d. 1977).

If you Google "Clarice Lispector cockroach" you can find references to her story "The Fifth Story" about cockroaches who are frozen like "statues" by the borax poison the protagonist sets out. I was also able to find mention of the egg story--it is "The Egg and the Chicken" and here is an excerpt from the strange story:

Seeing the egg is impossible. The egg is supervisible just as there are supersonic sounds. No one can see the egg. Does the dog see the egg? Only machines see the egg. The construction crane sees the egg. — When I was ancient an egg landed on my shoulder. — Love for the egg cannot be felt either. Love for the egg is supersensible.

That quote is from a NY Times review of a short story collection of hers, that does a good job of explaining what her stories are like.

I'm sortof amused that the author's name does indeed have a 'la' in it as I had guessed--Clarice.

  • Good job on finding this! I hope more people upvote this answer, so that it moves above mine in the list. – Rand al'Thor Oct 16 '17 at 8:55
  • There's also the novel by Clarice Lispector called "The passion by G.H" which begins with the protagonist killing a cockroach and then eating it. – Leo Lerena Jan 5 at 0:01
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This is almost certainly the short story collection Natural Histories by Guadalupe Nettel.


Since the stories you seek were translated into English, I guessed that the author might be relatively well-known in South American literature. So I did a Google search for short stories south american, and lo and behold, I found this page which says:

In Natural Histories (2014), Nettel composes a mosaic of unforgettable characters: there’s the pregnant woman who spends her days observing how two fishes fight, the bourgeois family whose apartment is taken over by cockroaches or the couple of musicians who share a genital infection.

The mention of cockroaches made me almost certain that this is the book you're looking for. After that it was just a matter of finding detailed enough reviews to check everything you've described:

  • In “The Marriage of a Red Fish,” a young woman witnesses the crumbling of her marriage through the lens of a pair of Siamese fighting fish, whose perilous cohabitation reflects in the actions of the husband and wife. -- source

    This is probably your woman meditating in a hallway with a divorce involved.

  • 'War in the Trash Cans' sees a household war waged against an invasion of cockroaches (though ending also with a symbolic lone orphaned cockroach, much like the forlorn-feeling narrator at that time). -- source

    This is surely the story with the frozen cockroaches.

  • I couldn't find anything about a woman on a plane, or an avian egg, but both of these details are quite vague. The whole collection of stories is about animals (or fungi) and how they relate to humans, so it's plausible that a bird's egg is described somewhere. Or maybe you're remembering parts of another book which is mixed up with Natural Histories in your memory.

  • I went to the library to take a look at Natural Histories. It is not the same book, although the Nettel story featuring cockroaches has an almost identical scene. However, the writing style is too informal and the other stories do not match at all. I realize now, when I said the author I remember wrote in a 'chilly' style, I mean perhaps somewhat like Borges. Very, very formal, very removed. Also, I read my book in the 90s, and Nettel's book won an award when it was first published in 2013. I'm going to try to track down the book at the college library where I first read it. – loopernow Oct 16 '17 at 4:47

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