The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman

Smell is an illusion, my father used to tell me: invisible molecules in the air converted by my brain into cinnamon, cut grass, burning wood.” 

The DNA of You and Me

What a great line from Andrea Rothman’s debut novel. Read my review on Litro Magazine. The DNA of You and Me is the story of scientist Emily Aspell as she looks back on her life and beginnings in the world of science just before she is about to receive an important award for her work in olfactory research. An award that summarises what her life has been all about, the points of no return and the choices made along the way.

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This Paradise by Ruby Cowling

A few months ago I started contributing to Litro Magazine, an online platform full of incredible stories perfect for discovering new authors and books.

For my first review, I was lucky enough to be sent this absolute jewel called This Paradise by British author Ruby Cowling, a collection of extraordinary short stories.

This Paradise offers an incredibly diverse range of topics, from luna moths, to everyday family life, odd encounters at massage parlours and more. There is something very refreshing about these short stories; they are original, current, entertaining, and relevant. Highly recommended. ‘

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Classics Challenge #4

My first recollection of this extraordinary character is from this Japanese anime first launched in the 1980s. Looks familiar? This is how I came across Tom Sawyer and his adventures.

I was surprised how much the cartoon had an impact in my reading. Tom Sawyer, his bother Sid, Huck Finn, Becky Tatcher, Auntie Polly, Inuit Joe, pretty much everyone was pictured in my mind like in the cartoon.

Reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer became a trip down memory lane, back to my childhood in Mexico City. The fictional town of St Petersburg was the place we all wanted to live in, the Mississippi river was the closest thing to paradise for me and my friends growing up in the urban jungle.

It is books like this that make me nostalgic about childhood. Tom Sawyer’s adventures reminds us that it is possible to have enormous fun with little, that the world out there provides us with all the entertainment we can wish for. How refreshing it would be to run away to start a new life as pirates. Tom, even with his questionable behaviour, is in a constant search for freedom. As every boy his age, he is notorious at pushing boundaries, challenging authority and institutions. But isn’t this the very essence of our human nature? At the end, Tom learns from his mistakes and the overall beauty of this novel, in my opinion is being an essential guide to friendship.

‘Lost Children Archive’ by Valeria Luiselli

If you have read the extraordinary Tell Me How it Ends, it will be clear that there is a topical continuation in the narrative of Valeria Luiselli’s latest novel Lost Children Archive. It is no surprise that the subject of migrant children is very much at the centre of this spectacular novel, but it is also a moving study of family dynamics.

As the family takes on a road trip from New York to the border with Mexico, the narrative becomes more and more intimate to the point that the reader feels like another passenger sitting in that car. What I found very moving are the descriptions of the relationship between parents and children. I think that in this novel Luiselli reminds us of the importance of observing our children aiming to understand who they are simply by contemplating them.


‘They look memorable from where I’m sitting: look like they should be photographed. I almost never take pictures of my own children. They hate being in pictures and always boycott the family’s photographic moments (…) Adults pose for eternity; children for the instant

As they cross the United States, dad tells the kids stories of the native Americans and in particular that of Geronimo. Mum is all about those children desperately trying to cross the Mexico-US border to be reunited with their relatives. Luiselli, as in Tell Me How it Ends drops those bombs that leave you once again stunned. It is a known fact that to start the deportation process (or ‘removal’ as the American authorities like to say) the detention centres (or ICE) are raided. And in that in-between children go missing. Do they escape? Is it better to become a missing person to eliminate the threat of being ‘removed’? How many thousands of children are wandering the streets now desperately trying to find a clue that will get them to mum or dad?

A critical point in the novel is when the family witness the deportation of around 20 children. Girls and boys lined up to board a small plane in an air strip in the middle of nowhere. What a better place, away from the public eye, away from everyone that could care.


If they hadn’t gotten caught, they probably would have gone to live with family, gone to school, playgrounds, parks. But instead, they’ll be removed, relocated, erased because there’s no place for them in this vast empty country’.

It has been a long time since I felt the need to mark a book, to make sure I remember those phrases to be able to go back to them again and again. Reading Lost Children Archive made me seriously think about the fragility of a child’s life, and how memories and experiences shape who they will become. Childhood is precious because it is so easily hurt. And of course, the stories of those unaccompanied child migrants keep making me sad and furious but I think we all have to thank Valeria Luiselli for the painful reminder of a reality faced by thousands of kids.


‘The only thing that parents can really give their children are little knowledges (…) this is how you cut your own toe nails, this is the temperature of a real hug, this is how you untangle the knots in your hair, this is how I love you.’

The novel has an unusual but genius structure that revolves around six boxes that are contained in the boot of the car. There are Polaroid pictures snapped by the 10 year-old son, maps, lists, and an impressive number of references to literary works, films and music. Even David Bowie’s Space Oddity plays a phenomenal role in the story. Lost Children Archive is a stunning novel, it’s moving, a little bit sad but worth reading because once again Valeria Luiselli strikes literary perfection.

Lost Children Archive is published in the UK by Harper Collins

‘Tell Me How It Ends’ by Valeria Luiselli

The first time I heard about Valeria Luiselli was because I was looking for her novel The Story of my Teeth. I resisted the temptation of reading it in English and waited for my next trip to Mexico City to buy it. It was January 2018. Book distribution in Mexico never fails to surprise me so, of course, after visiting two major bookshops La historia de mis dientes was no where to be seen. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel and a genius bookseller said to me, why don’t you read Los niños perdidos (Tell Me How It Ends) and he handed me a thin little book. ‘It’s an essay’ he said, ‘about unaccompanied migrant children’. It was cheap, short and I thought that the main thing at that point was simply to read Valeria Luiselli.

Tell Me How It Ends is one of the most memorable books I have read in a long, long, time. And perhaps one of the most relevant of the last decade. Everyone should read it and this is why:

We are constantly bombed by images of migrants and their suffering. We are exposed to endless images of Syrian refugees; desperate people crossing the Mediterranean in the middle of the night on dangerous inflatable rafts; others crossing deserts by foot fleeing violence and war in their home nations. All of them in the most critical of situations, risking absolutely everything, their lives and those of their families. But I find that amidst the heart-breaking situation of all these people, migrants are perceived as a threat. ‘Look, here they come’, ‘Shouldn’t they be stopped?’.

The discourse of an utterly lack of compassion permeates the images we see on our screens on alarmingly regular basis. We witness the struggles and suffering of those parents risking their children’s life in the hope of a better future. I always wonder how desperate they must be that the prospect of drowning in the cold waters of the Mediterranean Sea is something worth considering, because if you make it, your life stands a chance of being better. Even if it’s a little bit better, that tiny bit it’s worth the try.

Now, think about this: picture all those images I’ve described but remove the adults, the mothers and fathers and that leaves you the absolutely insane, inhumane reality of unaccompanied migrant children. And that sucks. And makes me sad and angry.

As Europe struggles with its own migrant crisis, on the other side of the planet, Tell Me How It Ends focuses on those children making its way to the Mexico -US border in the hands of ‘coyotes’, who are nothing but ruthless people smugglers. These kids walk, cross rivers on rafts, ride on top of cargo trains and who knows what else for weeks or months until they reach the border sitting on a notoriously dangerous desert. What they want, is simply to reach their relatives in the United States. They want to feel at home.

The story usually is the following: the home town is unsafe, crippled by gang or drug trafficking violence. This mean people get murdered, women raped, there’s now where to turn and the best shot of surviving is by going away. So, mum, dad or older siblings leave chasing the American Dream and manages to settle over there. The children are left behind in the care of a relative. Flash forward months (or even years) grandma or auntie or uncle receive the instructions and money to get pay a ‘coyote’ to bring the kids over. The journey can take months and the risks are enormous. Kids are asked to memorise the life saving number that will get them to their families in the US, some have it stitched to the collar of the shirt or dress they are wearing. Imagine that. The best chance they have to making it is to be ‘caught’ by the Border Patrol and sent to one of the detention centres that we have seen on our TV screens (and looked away). From there, their situation is reviewed and if applicable they then appear in court. These little Guatemalan. Honduran, Ecuadorian, Nicaraguan or Salvadorian kids are asked to answer a questionnaire made up of 40 questions, in English, of course.

I’ll stop there because it is here where Luiselli’s little book becomes most essential and necessary to understand how this can be possible. Tell Me How It Ends works around these 40 questions. It narrates the stories she witnessed when working as a volunteer translator in a NY court assisting children, as young as 4, facing a judge who would then decide they had the right to remain in the US. If not, they are ‘removed’ from the country. This book, just shy of 100 pages is an absolute essential read to understand migration. It is, perhaps, an uncomfortable reminder of the lack of compassion towards those in need. And the more heart breaking when those risking their lives are so young and vulnerable. All that these unaccompanied child migrants want is their mum and dad to kiss them goodnight, and the world is taking that away from them.

Tell me How it Ends is published in the UK by Fourth Estate

The Adventures of Pinocchio: Classics Challenge #3

This read was full of surprises, much more than the previous reads. I guess it shows how Disney embeds their versions in the collective memory and it stays there with little chance of changing. Pinocchio is perhaps one of the most famous cautionary tales but the story is much darker than I expected.

So, here are my top shockers (and plot spoilers by the way) of this absolutely wonderful story:

Geppetto is a nasty, nasty man. Yes, he is rude and violent to the point of getting involved in full blow fights. ‘…Geppetto lost his head with rage and threw himself upon the carpenter. Then and there they gave each other a sound thrashing.’ Please tell me I am not alone in remembering him as a sweet old man.

We all love the Taking Cricket didn’t we? Well, brace yourself for my jaw-dropping moment of the story. We know that Pinocchio is full of mischief, so the little Cricket decides to give him a bit of advise:

‘Woe to boys who refuse to obey their parents and run away from home! They will never be happy in this world, and when they are older they will be very sorry for it.’ (…) ‘Careful, ugly Cricket! If you make me angry you’ll be sorry!’ The Cricket tells him that he is already sorry for him because he is a marionette and that is much worse than having a wooden head. After hearing this ‘Pinocchio jumped in a fury, took a hammer from the bench, and threw it with all his strength at the Talking Cricket. (…) ‘cri-cri-cri’ the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead! No remorse added to the scene.

Most famous fact of the story is that Pinocchio’s nose grows when he lies. I did not know this happens when the Fairy throws that spell on him: ‘…am laughing at your lies . ‘How do you know I’m lying?’ ‘Lies, my boy,
are known in a moment. There are two kinds of lies, lies with short legs and lies with long noses. Yours, just now, happen to have long noses.’
Parenting owe so much to this line!

The last revelation for me is the slightly disturbing Land of Toys. A place that promises children endless fun, no rules, no discipline and absolute freedom to do whatever they want. But this sinister place slowly transform the children into donkeys to be sold as well, slaves, really. Bit harsh.

Reading The Adventures of Pinnocchio was an unforgettable experience. I did not expect it to be so ‘grown up’ if that’s the right word. Pinnocchio has the behavior and attitude that every parent dreads: he is rude, lazy a liar, and he constantly runs away. His adventures take him to far away places and his actions have consequences for those who care for him. The marionette has to let down Geppeto, the Fairy and his friends in order to find the right path in life, and it makes a lot of sense to do it this way when thinking of a young reader.

It’s a great read and a cautionary tale that I cannot wait to read to my daughter, perhaps toning down the animal cruelty towards crickets.

To read more about the Classic’s Reading Challenge click here

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Classics Challenge #2

This is one of the perfect examples of the obvious classics that you’ve heard all about it: you recognize Alice and Cheshire Cat, you’ve seen the various films but you haven’t actually read the book. At least, I didn’t until now.

Lots have been said about Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece. It’s been the subject of endless literary studies but I will tell you one thing: it’s weird. Really, really weird.

The plot, as we know is simple. Alice and her sister are enjoying a day out when she spots white rabbit with a pocket watch. Curious, Alice follows him and falls down the rabbit hole and into a magical world where her adventures take place. She goes big, she goes small, she swims (and nearly drowns) in her tears, she finds tiny doors, she meets the craziest characters ever: the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle,The Queen of Hearts, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, The Duchess and more. For me, the Duchess is the weirdest and most fascinating of them all. And I’ll tell you why.

Children’s literature has plenty of the pretty and beautiful. But what fascinated me about The Duchess is that she’s ugly. Brutally ugly. And on top of that mean to her child and it’s the owner of the world famous Cheshire Cat!

It is unusual to deal with the lack of looks so boldly to the point that Alice feels very uneasy around her because of her appearance. “Alice did not much like keeping so close to her: first, because the Duchess was VERY ugly; and secondly, because she was exactly the right height to rest her chin upon Alice’s shoulder…” 

The iconic images accompanying Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are those illustrated by Sir John Tenniel. Digging around a little bit, I found that, according to Martin Gardner, in The Annotated Alice, Tenniel’s drawing of The Duchess was inspired in the painting The Ugly Duchess (c. 1513) by the Flemish painter Quentin Massys. The unusual and slightly disturbing artwork is part of The National Gallery’s permanent collection. Look at it, it’s brutal. And the resemblance is spot on!

Through its pages I can see why children and adults keep going back to this story. It is the madness of it all, circumstances and characters, that makes it so incredibly appealing, fun and entertaining. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an epic celebration of the human imagination and if you haven’t read it, do it now, it will feel like a dream.

To find out more about my Classic’s reading challenge click here.