The book is translated with a wonderfully light touch by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana, and the short sections have a compulsive quality, even as the reader feels lured into the taiga themselves. The setting is atmospheric – “its temperature, its flora, its fauna, its shades of green” – and frequently disconcerting. The syndrome of the title is explained: “Certain inhabitants of the taiga begin to suffer terrible anxiety attacks and make suicidal attempts to escape.” All this and more comes through in Rivera Garza’s expressive prose. From murderous lumberjacks, to astute wolves, to feral little boys, this is a short novel whose multiple stories stay in the memory long after reading.
The journey through the taiga – a place where feral children roam and drunk lumberjacks stomp around with torches – also takes us through several literary traditions. Considered one of the greatest Mexican authors writing today, Rivera Garza here interweaves suspense with poetry, creating a contemporary magic-realist fable that is both her own and draws on her predecessors. We are told that the tale of Hansel and Gretel, children lost in a cruel world, was even more brutal in its original oral version; a reminder that much of what we perceive as our cultural heritage is in fact a product of our collective imagination.