Cover Image: The Wonders

The Wonders

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Member Reviews

Sometimes books in translation are a hit, and sometime they are miss for me. I don't know if maybe this would have read better in Spanish for me.

This spanned two generations and dealt with the challenges of family, city life, and feminism in Spain. The observations are lovely that are made by the author, but I just struggled to stay engaged.

I would still recommend this book.

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The interwoven and sliced-up stories of two women, Maria and Alicia, who are related but do not know each other, each moving, at different times, to Madrid for a fresh start. It's a difficult novel to get it into - not because of the dual stories, but because of the fragmented nature of the storytelling. The author is a poet and focuses on the granular, the book written as vignettes, rather than a sustained narrative. I had to start it several times and I had to go back and forth figuring out who was who until I tried reading it as short stories, The fragmentation is intense, but also provides a collective look at working-class Spanish womanhood, and the great changes in the women, in their neighborhoods, in Spain, and for women. Sometimes I felt the pace was too quick, the time in these vignettes unclear, but when Medel focuses in on particular stories, happenings, the work can shine. A tough book though to make my way through.

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Published: 03/01/22

Thank you NetGalley and Algonquin Books for accepting my request to read and review The Wonders.

This book follows two women from Madrid, Spain; one in 1969 and the other in 2018. While living in different eras, the problems they face as women are the same.

I had a difficult time with the book. This read like snippets of paragraphs that I wrote in college by setting a timer and writing whatever came to mind. Also, my Kindle gives an estimated reading time. If it says 5 hours,I schedule 6. This at 240 pages was daunting, and took me hours over days to finish. I found myself reminiscing on Waterloo in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Sadly, I didn't think it would ever come together or end.

I practice reading blind -- when I picked The Wonders originally I read the synopsis and looked forward to a new reading adventure for me (Spain) from a woman's perspective. I believe my system failed me. I was lost, frustrated, and didn't love the two main characters but did empathize with some of their experiences.

Once I finished, I reread the synopsis trying to make sense of my time, and I did. I would have went into the book differently if the synopsis was fresh on my mind. The parallel lives, the lack of changes for women over time, and the author's poetic background would have been game changers.

If there was any reference to the Spaniard culture, it escaped me. However, the profanity did not.

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“Do power and revolution speak of her?”

This is a very interesting story about power, gender, social determinants of health and happiness, and connection. Set in Madrid, we follow the daily lives of two central characters from different generations and watch them navigate the changes in their lives and greater society. The story culminates in seeing their deep connection in an uncertain path crossing. I wasn't immediately captured by the characters but the writing style is undeniably poetic and engaging. I have also found the longer I sit with the novel, the impression of the larger themes sinks in more.
I listened to this on audio and the narrator was great. It might warrant a re-listen/re-read in the future now that the messages are more clear. I recommend this to fans of the author, readers interested in feminist novels, and character-driven stories. I would love to read more work by Elana Medel.

3.5 stars overall

Thank you to the author, Algonquin Books, and Netgalley for the audio version of this work!

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This book has everything I need. Strong women trying to navigate their way thru generational trauma. The writing was beautiful, the characters are written so well and with such depth.

I would absolutely recommend, it felt more like a poem than a novel- and I loved how free flowing the writing was. (The author clearly is an expert in her field) I can't pinpoint exactly what it is that makes these perspectives different from other books I've read, but it just feels more poetic. (Reader, here... Not a writer)

Enthusiastic 10 out of 10

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an interesting read, i enjoyed this book

thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for an advanced copy of this book!

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This was such an interesting read that follows two independent women from two generations. The themes circle around feminism and socio economic status. They both take the pain of their past and handle it in very different ways. It was a bit gloomy and mundane. I had a hard time being empathetic to Alicia and Carmen due to the way the characters were written.

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Happy international women's history month!!!

The perfect book for any woman/girl or person who celebrates women's rights.

The wonder was an enjoyable book about the movement of women.

Two women trying to fight for women's rights are equally different, but they all have the same goal to make a feminist movement in their homeland. The story is set in 1960s. and 2018. It shows how hard it is being a woman, the struggles they faced for being one, and the struggles we continue to face.

Beautiful book about the women's movement.

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Personally, I really struggled with The Wonders; I felt like the prose was well written, but there was something about the story that I just didn't connect with. I wasn't super interested in the characters either. I'm not sure how much of it is chalked up to translation, and how much of it is just my own headspace, or the original text.

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Elena Medel is a Spanish award winning poet, and this is her debut novel. My thanks go to Algonquin and Net Galley for the invitation to read and review.

I am initially excited to be asked to read a work of fiction that “brings a half century of the feminist movement to life,” but in most regards, the magic has escaped me. I suspect part of this may be cultural, and/or a matter of translation, because the style is very different from North American and British novels. A single paragraph may last for pages, and there are vast swaths of internal monologue that leave me checking the page count.

And yet, there are some fine moments here. I can’t recall having seen a novel that demonstrates so decisively what happens to a woman that is not given the choice to terminate a pregnancy, or what kind of life the child is likely to have. We begin with Maria, who is completely disinterested in her baby, and almost immediately leaves her with her mother, parenting only by sending money home as she is able. She works the night shift, facing danger and harassment constantly.

Her daughter Alicia is not only disinterested in motherhood, but never develops human attachments. She takes joy in hurting other people, physically and emotionally, from an early age. She makes no true friends, and she doesn’t want any. Her character chills me to the bone.

Although it isn’t an enjoyable read for me, I recommend it to a niche audience, those that have a particular interest in international feminist literature. It will be available to the North American public tomorrow, March 1, 2023.

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THE WONDERS by Elena Medel (trans. by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunstead) is a novel about two working-class women of different generations who live in Madrid. Maria, a housekeeper and office cleaner, leaves behind her daughter to be raised by her mother and siblings in Córdoba, hoping they will one day be able to reunite. Instead, she becomes involved in the feminist movement and has a decidedly modern partnership with Pedro.

Meanwhile, decades later, Alicia also moves to Madrid after surviving a tragic childhood in which her wealthy family lost everything after her father’s suicide. Stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship with her boyfriend, she finds solace in working night shifts at a snack shop in a metro station and spending mornings alone.

This book is about women’s small acts of defiance against men, and while it touches upon feminism in Spain, including the 2018 Women’s Strike, I wanted more on that angle, both historically and personally for Maria. There’s a lot of telling about how Maria is a leader in the eyes of the young feminists in her circle, but not a lot of showing how it’s acted out in her life and how it’s impacted her. I did appreciate how the novel focuses on working-class women and their contributions to the movement.

Fans of Elena Ferrante may enjoy this book, which has echoes of the psychological one-upmanship of childhood in Alicia’s backstory. Thank you @algonquinbooks for the eARC!

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In The Wonders we get the struggles of two different women in two different timepoints for relevance and voice. Through their day to day lives we see their struggle to be seen and heard. Each has life changing things happen to them and feel them as they shut themselves off and make choices about how their lives will go. The stories do eventually come together but by then I was a bit bored.

This was a case of the writing style not being for me. There's a lot of long paragraphs with stream of consciousness that includes lots of minutiae with the larger heavy important social messages. I do try to make an effort to read translated reads and I did find the girls' stories very relatable but there were times where I felt a bit lost. Reading other reviews, I'm sure this is just me, there are so many amazing reviews. Just because I didn't love this one doesn't mean that you won't.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for the gifted copy. All opinions above are my own.

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Thank you @netgalley and @medelelena For the opportunity to read and review The Wonders.

This is an engaging multigenerational book about two women from two different backgrounds. The story follows them from 1960s Spain to the present and describes their struggles of work and family.

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The Wonders by Elena Medel

236 Pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: March 1, 2022

Fiction, Family Dynamics, Relationships, Women, International, Spain

Maria has dreams for her future. After the birth of her daughter, Carmen, she lives her city and travels to Madrid where her prospects are brighter. She becomes a cleaner and caretaker. Alicia, like Maria, comes from a smaller city but her family is wealthy. Her family owns several restaurants, and she goes to an elite school. She believes she is better than her peers until it all comes crashing down around her.

The story has a slow pace, the characters are somewhat developed, and is written in the third person point of view from two different perspectives. The women are similar yet very different. Where Maria is from a poor family and is kind, Alicia is from a wealthy family and is arrogant. If you like international family style dramas, you may enjoy reading this book.

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DNF @ page 14
I usually try to get a little more into a book before DNFing, but I just could not go on with the writing and/or translation.

Sentences and sentence structure made zero sense and the switching of POV within paragraphs was so confusing.

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This is a story of women, power, money and feminism. This is a unique voice in storytelling as these women learn to find a voice.
Thank you #algonquin and #NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

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This book had such a promising premise, but unfortunately the story slowed down so much I had a hard time getting through it.

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It was an interesting coming of age story that made me take a step back and think at the end, and the first translated book I've read this year

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This debut novel in English by the Spanish poet feels like a collection of short stories that weave back and forth through time. Attempting to bypass and often unknowingly giving in to intergenerational trauma, two working-class women try creating lives of their own for freedom from patriarchal constrictions, financial hardships, and everlasting grief, while these impediments and the changing Spanish life, culture, and politics from 1969 to the 21st century push them to abandon ambition for exhausting menial jobs—and suffer even more for doing so in a society built on class divides.

The very first scene shows Alicia, in her thirties, searching her pockets for enough money to get home after a late shift while women in Madrid are planning to march for their rights. Maria is a retired worker—and Alicia’s grandmother—who has built a women’s support group which is helping organise this march. The two don’t know each other and the two are also opposites. Maria is kind and patient as she pushes against her exploited past to eventually find respect in middle age; Alicia has always been privileged until her father commits suicide and leaves her and her mother in debt, which eventually numbs her to love and emotions. Yet both are similar in the path of economic insecurity, tough decisions, and regretful life choices.

Truly a straightforward, unfiltered and bold interpretation of three women’s —the third being Carmen, Alicia’s mother and Maria’s daughter, who was abandoned by both when Maria decided to leave her as a baby till she had enough funds to bring her back (only to come back to a teenage Carmen who no longer wished to live with the mother who had left her) and when Alicia leaves her to cripple under her late husband’s debts—lives impacted by gender and class hardships in a country where cultural tectonic plates are shifting, and across a past that surrendered to fragmented conditions and a present that demands change.

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The Wonders is a novel about women and their choices about sex, class, roles, and family. It is a multi-generational family story. We see the themes of alienation, perseverance, and trauma being repeated in each generation. Through María, Carmen, and Alicia's we can trace the women's movement in Spain from the times of Franco to modern day.
María and Alicia are well developed characters. Their relationships with the men in their lives have depth as they navigate their untraditional lives. The story is told from different perspective and I did have to check back a few times to the beginning of the chapter to make sure I new who was narrating. This aspect could have used a more clarity.

I think I would have liked this book better if I had read it in Spanish. The translation is stilted. It lacks natural lyrical flow of the Spanish language. Since the author is a poet it imagine it would have been a beautiful read. I will add it to my list of books to read in preparation for the next school year (Spanish teacher prep). This is what we mean by lost in translation.

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