Cover Image: Humiliation

Humiliation

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Member Reviews

A brilliant collection of short stories, and I love the fact that we are being introduced to more international writers! These stories are bluntly intense, and I was drawn in from the first page
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This was a good read, which kept me interested from beginning to end.  I enjoyed the prose, and was intrigued by the characters, and where their stories would lead.
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One of the most exciting Latin American authors I’ve read. The stories stayed in my mind for a long time. An author to keep an eye on.
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These stories are all written in a matter of fact, almost flat style and this doesn't change when they're sad, or funny or odd. I'd be interested to read something longer by the author. I'm not sure that they were for me in the end, but I'm glad to have read them.
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Translated by Megan McDowell (Fever Dream and others) from Paulina Flores's debut short story collection Qué vergüenza.

The title story Humiliaton / Qué vergüenza makes for an excellent and effective start, showcasing Flores's ability, in McDowell's text, to create sympathy for her characters. The story has a father, now unemployed, heading for yet another interview, with his two daughters in tow, as his wife works to make ends meet.

Much of the story is narrated from the perspective of the elder sister, Simona, who has found this latest opportunity, an audition for a marketing campaign, which she is convinced will turn around the family's fortunes, and proud of her role:

"Her pride also stemmed from the satisfaction of knowing that she did understand what her father was feeling, and that her little sister didn’t. Simona was the one who had spent all those nights with her ear pressed to the wall, listening to her parents fight. And the next morning she would get out of bed to look up in the dictionary all the words they had said to each other that were new to her. Sometimes she even looked up ones she had heard before, but that in her opinion didn’t apply to her father: loser, coward, selfish. Simona suffered, but at the same time she loved feeling part of the solemnity of adult conflicts. These were the kinds of responsibility that came with the position of older sister.
...
Simona was sure that her father loved her, but she could also tell that something was making him feel lonely, and that all the love she could give him didn’t help; quite the opposite, in fact. In some strange and inexplicable way it seemed to weaken him and make him feel more alone. She thought that solitude was related to one of the words her mother had said in their fights, one she’d also looked up in the dictionary: humiliation."

The father's humiliation, when we switch to his perspective, stemming from his lack of any defined role in the family now he is no longer the breadwinner:

"He also knew that all the time his daughters were growing up, he had been hiding. Limiting his contribution to an exhausting job from Monday to Saturday. And now that he had nothing material to contribute, he felt useless and excluded. His wife was much better than him, and she was right when she threw his lack of resolve in his face. It was logical for her to be tired of taking charge of everything. And all he could do was crack jokes and play games with his daughters. He couldn’t think of anything to do but act like a playmate."

Unfortunately, the seeming opportunity works out rather differently to expected in two ways, leaving both daughter and father humiliated.

A strong start, but if I had an issue with the collection, it was that this trope of the unemployed father, lacking meaning in life, seemed to be revisited rather too frequently. As another story puts it:

"It wasn’t the first time my father was unemployed, but it was the most dramatic. He was always inventing businesses that didn’t work out, or that he left half finished."

Even fathers who are in work, seem to lack any calling:

"He was exhausted by the mere knowledge that he would have to go back to work the next day, and he couldn’t rest. He spent the whole day aggrieved by the injustice of another workday."

Overall, a collection where the whole was in a sense less than the sum of the parts, due to the repetition of the same themes (the unemployed/meaninglessly employed father just one), but an author to watch for the future.
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I've been overjoyed the past few years with all of the amazing short story collections being released, especially those released my young, female first-time authors. I think part of it is the thrill of discovering your own emotions and experiences in fiction, perhaps not for the first time but definitely in a way that feels truer than ever before. Thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In Humiliation women of all ages abound. Girls who love their fathers, girls who lie, mothers who leave their sons, women that love, women that despair, women that question, women that give selflessly, women that crave, women that learn. Although the collection isn't solely about women, I was fascinated by the wide variety of female experiences shown in Humiliation. The same is true for the stories with male narrators. Each is forced to reckon with a moment where, seemingly, everything changes and they have to become aware of the real world. There is a cruelty to how Flores unveils to her characters what the "real world" is like, with its disappointment, consequences and loneliness. This may sound to some like Millennial complaining about why the world is so hard, but what Flores shows is that universal moment in which, as the blurb suggests, innocence is lost. Almost all of the stories focus on young children on the verge of adulthood, experiencing their first real taste of both excitement and desperation, caught in a moment that might forever define them or turn out to mean nothing. Flores masterfully captions the importance children attribute to small things, while missing the larger picture.

The stories in Humiliation are incredibly acute, almost painfully so. The first story, the eponymous 'Humiliation' perfectly encapsulates the pure adoration children have for their parents, as well as the constant fear of disappointment that surrounds that adoration. As the first story, it sets the perfect tone for the rest of the collection.  In multiple stories Flores shows the quiet desperation of the adults in the background. Frequently it is unemployment, an unequal share of the work at home, or poverty. It grounds the stories in a harsh but recognizable reality. 'Forgetting Freddy' is one of the most fear-inducing stories I have read recently, as we see a woman trying to get over the end of her relationship. The final story of the collection is perhaps the strongest, and longest, one. 'Lucky Me' tracks two seemingly separate narratives, one that follows the hesitant friendship between two school girls from different backgrounds, and one that follows a lonely young woman who spies on her neighbours' having sex and feels, quite simply, lost.

This is Paulina Flores' first short story collection and it was first released in Chile in 2015. Her writing is somehow both restrained and deeply emotional. There are no bells and whistles here, Flores doesn't over-exaggerate and doesn't get lost in detail. And yet the world she writes about is easily recognized, as are her characters. There are moments of dark humour, of affection, of dread, but hardly any moment of release. The sense that it all keeps going, that there is no escaping what is happening, suffuses these stories to me and makes it, at times, quite difficult to read. Megan McDowell does a brilliant job at translating the tranquil and sparse prose and I can't wait to read more of Flores' writing in the future.

Humiliation is a brilliant short story collection that captures disillusionment, hope, seduction, fear and everything in between. Truly human and yet somehow above it, I would recommend this short story collection to everyone.
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'It's not about being naive; what you do is fool yourself, and you do it so well that one day your actions come back to you and take you by surprise, sneak up behind you. Or that's what I think now.'

A timely (given the current unrest in the country) English-language translation of Chilean author Paulina Flores' collection of nine short stories. This isn't an easy collection to just breeze through and absorb. each of the stories is elusive, often moving back and forward in time, and demands attention from the reader, but they are rich and complex and definitely worth taking time over.

Often, the central characters are children, or involve an older version of themselves looking back to a childhood moment of realisation, a moment where their outlook on life changes. Here, a father pounds the streets trying to find a job, only to find that his children are more in demand than he is; a woman and a man hook up after a chance meeting, a decision that turns very dark indeed; a group of boys dream of being rock stars and plan to steal the musical instruments from the local church....

Underlying everything is a sense of the human spirit remaining, somehow, bright amidst the challenges of modern society: unemployment, poverty, loneliness, troubled relationships. Flores writes with a stark precision which suits her material, and the translation by Megan McDowell is well done. It's not perfect, and some of the stories did land a little flat for me, but this is an intriguing collection, and I look forward to what this exciting new talented author comes up with next.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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I've done well for Latin American short stories over the past few weeks with Humiliation by Paulina Flores being the third such collection I have reviewed. (In mid-October I reviewed The Scent Of Buenos Aires by Hebe Uhart and my A Dream Come True by Juan Carlos Onetti review will be blogged on Saturday.) Humiliation includes nine new stories, all of which are linked by the senses of humiliation, guilt or shame, and Flores has created a folorn cast of characters with whom I could easily empathise. I particularly felt for the unemployed father who found himself compelled to take his two young daughters on a seemingly never-ending round of job interviews because they couldn't be left at home alone. Flores' insights into her characters and their motivations make these stories wonderful to read because, even as I cringed at a child trying desperately to impress an older friend, or blushed for a woman spying on her adulterous neighbours, I could always understand exactly what had led these people to take these decisions.



What made some tales particularly interesting for me was seeing how characters' own perceptions of their actions differed with the passing of time, or the way in which their own understanding of themselves was in total contrast to that of their close friends and family. I loved how Flores is able to conjure up such depth to her stories within the space of just twenty or thirty pages. If short stories are a genre you appreciate reading, I would highly recommend adding this collection to your library.
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I could not get into this book at all. Maybe it is just not my style. I could not get interested in it. Sorry. 

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
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It is not often a short story collection gets 5 stars from me, but each of these 9 Chilean stories from
the award winning Paulina Flores, translated by Megan McDowell, are gems. They paint a picture of Chile and Chilean lives with verve and vitality, the poverty, the precariousness and challenges of life, places where almost everyone is unemployed, disintegrating families, broken marriages and relationships, and where dreams and ambitions are thwarted. Stories are written from the perspectives of children and adults, throwing light on family dynamics, such as mother and daughter relationships, infidelities, and other disturbing and unsettling behaviours. We have a young gang of boys intent on translating The Smiths songs from stolen dictionaries, seeing themselves as having much in common with the original Japanese ninjas, as they set out to train as ninjas with a mission in mind.

A 29 year old father is heading towards an opportunity for a casting audition in Santiago, walking on a scorchingly hot day with his two young daughters, 9 year old Simona and 6 year old Pia, only to find himself humiliated by what happens. A young girl is sent into a library by her father, only to apparently end up lost, a woman ends up going to their apartment for a sexual encounter. In a dilapidated and ugly poor port city, a group of boys plan a daring heist, only for a boy to be completely unaware about what is happening in the family until he is confronted by a wretched and shocking discovery at home. A woman returns home to live with her mother after 4 years of living with a man, she is entirely unprepared when her relationship breaks down and struggling to come to terms with it. A young girl with a tendency to hide under her bed, her father gambles on making it big on the Korean project but fails, she comes to grow up with and get close to her unmarried Aunt Nana, a woman of silence, giving herself to other, only to leave home to focus on herself in a way Aunt Nana never did.

A former waitress meets a old bartender friend to hear a confession. UFO sightings are missing in a unsettlingly disturbing story of Laika. A last summer vacation for a 10 year old boy with his Aunt Veronica and her two daughters, Camila and Javiera, has him opening up to the world of books and reading, and the possibility of another life. His meeting with the posh boy, Lucas, has him committing a betrayal he finds hard to live with. The final story is of a friendship between two girls and a woman drawn towards her neighbours and engaging in voyeurism. This is a fascinating and thought provoking set of stories, and not a single one is a dud. All inevitably dwell on the darker aspects of life, failure, sorrow, sadness, suffering and pain, surviving hard lives, disappointments and humiliation. So brilliant and highly recommended. Many thanks to Oneworld Publications for an ARC.
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I am afraid that I did not finish this book I got halfway through but I was unable to make any sense out of the stories. 

I generally really enjoy short stories but these seemed to end with nothing resolved.
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‘’I had the hope I would be able to forget. I longed for the freedom of a heroine, a life of my own, a happy one. Back then I ridiculously faced down the world, sure I could defeat it and emerge unscathed.’’

It is always a pleasure and an adventure to start a new short story collection. The genre is currently racing through a golden age, readership has become more demanding (at least the ones who don’t spend hours reading trash…) and more open to material that challenges our perceptions. We have become more accustomed to techniques that stress literary boundaries and the mystery of the Short Story is fascinating by definition.

However, sometimes a short story collection is simple, straightforward, tranquil but equally poignant. The stories in Paulina Flores’s collection are ripe with sadness and futile endeavours, the hope for change, the shadows of disappointment. There are no hidden meanings or cryptic messages but the greatest mystery of all; human relationships and their implications.

These are my favourite moments out of the 9 stories included in this collection:

Humiliation: A father tries to find a job, aided by his eldest daughter. However, nothing goes as planned. A very sad story of a family on the verge of breaking apart.

Teresa: An enigmatic woman meets a man and a strange little girl in a library. This story is the perfect combination of sinister and sensual.

‘’I burned all my bridges, he said, and I was left floating in the water, adrift.’’

Forgetting Freddy: A woman starts writing in her diary to cope with a painful separation. Pills, hot baths, everything to overcome the pain. A sad, haunting story of a woman who can’t leave the past behind and the dangers women have to fight against on a daily basis.

Aunt Nana: A young woman is trying to recover from the loss of the aunt who replaced an indifferent mother.

‘’We have forged great flaming wings.’’
                         Inscription on the Monument To The Conquerors of Space, Moscow.

Laika: A tender story of a girl’s fascination for the unexplained and unattainable. For the mystery of the universe, UFOs, legends and Laika, the most legendary of canines.

Last Vacation: A boy’s summer spent in the company of his bohemian aunt. A story about the love of reading, about growing up without a father and the tortured past of Chile.

Up to this point, the collection was a solid, clear 5-star material. Unfortunately, Lucky Me, the novella of the collection, wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Reading about Sailor Moon (which I loathed even as a child), stickers and various sexual troubles which I find utterly distasteful and disgusting is a literary nightmare for me. Fortunately, the rest of the collection was pure quality. 

This is an excellent collection about womanhood, desire. About the need to belong, to overcome preconceived expectations and potential failures, told through relatable characters within the context and rich culture of Chile.

‘’Nights, I wake up and walk barefoot through the apartment I rent. Tonight, I go into the kitchen and look out the window to the south. Venus is shining above a building’s antenna.’’

Many thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com/
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In these nine wonderfully crafted and haunting stories the acclaimed Chilean writer Paulina Flores examines the causes and lasting effects that humiliation can have on our lives. I'm sure that there is not one reader who can not think back to an episode perhaps during childhood that can still be remembered with undue embarrassment and perhaps even shame. It is the sheer randomness and unpredictability of how such a situation can arise that the writer captures most presciently together with the part that misunderstandings and misinterpretations play. 

Some of these stories concern how such instances can happen in early life and then can go onto shape the person's later behaviour and attitudes. Also there is a political undercurrent in the writing as some of the humiliation narrated is as a direct result of such issues as unemployment and poverty. Some of the stories make quite painful reading but all give an insight not only into the society that the writer inhabits but also more profoundly the human condition. Very recommended and a delightful discovery of a writer that I had not previously encountered.
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