Eartheater by Dolores Reyes, Julia Sanches
Published by HarperVia
Publication date: November 17, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Cultural, Debut, Fiction, Literary
An unnamed young woman lives in the barrios of Argentina with her older brother and her aunt. They have recently buried her beloved mother and her father has left. She responds to the need for answers the only way she knows how…by eating dirt. Unpalatable and bizarre? Yes. But it tells her where people have gone and if they are alive or dead. Eartheater is her story.
When a friendly woman who lives near their high school disappears the girl goes to her yard and takes a mouthful of dirt from where the woman stood when they talked. Then she draws a detailed picture of Senorita Ana’s dead body in a junkyard. It’s enough for the aunt to move out and the girl to drop out of high school. Days pass in a twilight space of dealing with death while being a normal teenage girl who has a crush on one of her brother’s friends. People drop off bottles of dirt with money and notes begging for help in locating lost loved ones. Her brother works in a shop so they need the money, but the act of consuming dirt takes its toll. All of her senses respond to people’s last moments or worse, the horrible situations in which they are still alive.
In the same way that she is helping some people, she is angering others. She and her brother live a hand-to-mouth life in a semi-wild state of beer, Playstation 4, and leftover takeout food. When a cop shows up and wants help, she knows it marks a turning point because the police are no friends to people like her. That plus Seniorita Ana haunting her dreams leaves her feeling even more adrift until events within her life and community force her into a path she doesn’t foresee.
Eartheater is a small novel, but the author’s voice conveys the rough cadence of street life, of an uneducated girl with a gift that is also a curse. A girl trapped in a world where she has virtually no control and no protection. Prophesying by eating dirt puts her in danger in a place already hostile towards young women. The plot is propulsive, but it’s the atmosphere of the novel that stayed with me. The ending feels like another beginning, but with an ambiguity that left me wanting more.
If you like cultural novels about young people on their own, trying to survive, you’ll also enjoy Little Family by Ishmael Beah.
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*I received a free copy of this book from HarperVia in exchange for an honest review.*