Reviews of The Wonders by Elena Medel

The Wonders

by Elena Medel

The Wonders by Elena  Medel X
The Wonders by Elena  Medel
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  • Published:
    Mar 2022, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tasneem Pocketwala
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Book Summary

From award-winning Spanish poet Elena Medel comes a mesmerizing new novel of class, sex, and desire.

Already an international sensation, The Wonders follows Maria and Alicia through the streets of Madrid, from job to job and apartment to apartment, as they search for meaning and stability in a precarious world and unknowingly trace each other's footfalls across time.

Maria moved to the city in 1969, leaving her daughter with her family but hoping to save enough to take care of her one day. She worked as a housekeeper, then a caregiver, and later a cleaner, and somehow she was always taking care of someone else. Two generations later, in 2018, Alicia was working at the snack shop in Madrid's Atocha train station when it overflowed with protestors and strikers. All women—and so many of them—protesting what? Alicia wasn't entirely sure. She couldn't have known that Maria was among them. Alicia didn't have time for marches; she was just trying to hang on until the end of her shift, when she might meet someone to take her away for a few hours, to make her forget.

Readers will fall in love with Maria and Alicia, whose stories finally converge in the chaos of the protests, the weight of the years of silence hanging thickly in the air between them. The Wonders brings half a century of the feminist movement to life, and launches an inimitable new voice in fiction. Medel's lyrical sensibility reveals her roots as a poet, but her fast-paced and expansive storytelling show she's a novelist ahead of her time.

Excerpt
The Wonders

She checked her pockets and found nothing. Her pant pockets, then the ones in her jacket: not so much as a used tissue. In her purse, nothing but a euro and a twenty-centimo coin. Alicia won't need any money till after her shift ends, but it makes her uncomfortable, this feeling of being so close to zero. I work at the train station, in a convenience store, the one near the public restrooms: that's how she usually introduces herself. There are no ATMs without fees in Atocha, so she gets off the metro one stop early and looks for a branch of her bank, withdrawing twenty euros to ease her mind. With this solitary note in her pocket, Alicia looks out at the virtually deserted traffic circle, a few cars, a few pedestrians. Shortly, the sky will start growing light. Given the choice, Alicia always takes the late shift: that way she gets to wake up when she likes, spend the afternoon at the shop, then go directly home. Nando grumbles when that happens, or all the time, ...

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Reviews

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The Wonders comes together more as a series of stark, arresting vignettes than as one story. But what is audacious and brilliant about Medel's debut is the unique style she employs. The voice of the omniscient narrator interjects during Alicia and Maria's internal monologues, and the effect is that of seamless stream-of-consciousness-like narration. Reminiscent in parts of Elena Ferrante and Virginia Woolf, Medel's The Wonders is a stunning debut about the intersection between poverty and womanhood...continued

Full Review (536 words).

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(Reviewed by Tasneem Pocketwala).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The Wonders is not a loud, fizzy debut, and this is one of its strengths. It is a vivid and painfully intimate account of two easily overlooked lives.

Booklist (starred review)
Medel's sensitive debut, charged with feminist insights but never losing sight of the particularities of its characters, weaves together the stories of two women whose deeper connection only becomes clear as the novel approaches its end...Spanish novelist Medel astutely examines the forces—political, economic, familial, and personal—that have shaped the two women's richly detailed lives. Though penned in by class and gender, often in ways they do not recognize, Maria and Alicia come across not as simple victims but as struggling survivors, still open to change.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Prizewinning Spanish poet Medel's debut novel examines the lives of three generations of women in Madrid with an unsparing eye...The translation from Spanish of Medel's unvarnished look at three constrained lives is unsentimental and direct.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Spanish poet Medel's remarkable English-language debut moves from Francoist Spain into the present day, tracing a family's fractured ties over three generations...Arresting characterizations and vivid prose fuel Medel's searing look at the impact gender, class, and financial hardships have on working-class Spanish women's lives as the country is buffeted by wider cultural shifts. It adds up to a powerful story.

Author Blurb Anna Solomon, author of The Book of V.
I read The Wonders in one page-turning night. Yet to describe Elena Medel's debut as gripping is to miss the point. An unflinching story about class, sex, family, and working women everywhere, this book achieves a rare combination of novelistic plotting and virtuosic interiority that left me rooting for Maria and Alicia as if I'd known them all my life.

Author Blurb Mariana Enriquez, author of Things We Lost in the Fire and the Booker Prize finalist
Completely unsentimental and with a harshness that hides the most radiant and painful of scars, Elena Medel's The Wonders brings to life several generations of working women: it's a serene and impious novel that puts class, feminism, and the eternal complexity of family ties at the fore.

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Beyond the Book

A Brief History of Feminist Organizing in Spain

A significant part of Elena Medel's The Wonders is devoted to the feminist awakening of the character Maria. She grows up in a poor neighborhood during Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's rule in the 1960s and early '70s, a time of strict gender roles. As Spain moves out of the Francoist era and comes to a new threshold of feminist liberation and agency, so does Maria, carving out a path towards becoming a feminist activist in her own right.

Women holding banner during 2018 Spanish women's strike in Zaragoza, Spain

Modern Spanish feminism has developed amid specific historical contexts — through a civil war, an authoritarian regime and the country's democratization process. It has been shaped as a response to a culture where patriarchal systems and concepts around womanhood are deeply influenced ...

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