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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Faces in the Crowd

Valeria Luiselli

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To purchase Faces in the Crowd

Title: Faces in the Crowd
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 146 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Faces in the Crowd - US
Los ingrávidos - US
Faces in the Crowd - UK
Faces in the Crowd - Canada
Faces in the Crowd - India
Des êtres sans gravité - France
Die Schwerelosen - Deutschland
Volti nella folla - Italia
Los ingrávidos - España
  • Spanish title: Los ingrávidos
  • Translated by Christina MacSweeney

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective creative approach; fine writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 5/5/2012 Mina Holland
The LA Times . 15/4/2014 Hector Tobar
NZZ . 6/4/2013 Andreas Breitenstein
Wall St. Journal . 23/5/2014 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "Concerned, above all, with literature's ability to transcend time and space, Faces in the Crowd signals the appearance of an exciting female voice to join a new wave of Latino writers." - Mina Holland, The Guardian

  • "Faces in the Crowd is itself a highly original work of many parts -- but one that does, in its own unique way, add up to a satisfying "whole." (...) Throughout Faces in the Crowd, Luiselli crafts beautiful sentences, while gleefully thumbing her nose at novelistic conventions. All that makes her an exciting and essential voice on the Latin American literary landscape" - Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Es ist schwer, die leichthändige Komplexität zu fassen, die dieses Buch auszeichnet. In kunstvoll ineinander verschränkten und lustvoll mit Dingsymbolen und literarischen Verweisen gespickten Parallelfügungen lässt es zwei Leben ineinanderfliessen, die über die Epochen hinweg das Gefühl eint, dass die Faktizität des Wirklichen nicht alles sein kann. Gleichermassen komisch und melancholisch, verspielt und existenziell, monoman und vielstimmig kommt das Gespensterballett daher, wobei das Pathos der letzten Fragen immer wieder von den Querelen des Alltags, den Aporien der Liebe und den Nöten des Schreibens durchbrochen wird." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Ms. Luiselli's conjuring act is to deftly blend the narrator's real and invented accounts and blur any distinctions between them. (...) If Ms. Luiselli's interest in the novelistic ambiguities of reality and temporality is not original -- she is in debt to the great South American artificers Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar -- the multilayered book she has devised brings freshness and excitement to such complex inquiries." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Faces in the Crowd is a multi-layered novel, presented in short pieces that move across different storylines, some of the pieces only a short paragraph in length (and a few covering several pages). As the narrator-author suggests in one stand-alone piece, however, this is:

Not a fragmented novel. A horizontal novel, narrated vertically.
       Yet elsewhere she admits or considers that it might, after all, be: "A vertical novel told horizontally." Such uncertainty -- about process, about perspective, as if it changes appearance and nature depending on which how one regards it -- are central to the work (and, indeed, are part of what the work is about).
       Peeling away the layers. the topmost has a mother of two young children (hence: "Everything I write is -- has to be -- short bursts"), living in Mexico, writing (alternately) about her present, as well as her time in New York, when she worked for a publisher, mainly as a translator. Her architect-husband sometimes reads what she writes -- and: "He asks how much is fiction and how much fact", disturbed by what he learns about her New York past and how she portrays their present. To appease him, or throw him off track, she considers saving on her computer part of what she is writing as an alternate novel -- a slice of her everyday writing that can sate her husband's curiosity, perhaps without upsetting him so much -- and with its layers Faces in the Crowd includes such potential. It is, very much a novel about writing itself -- process at every level, from finding a place and time to write, to the treatment of the subject matter, to the reception of texts by various readers (and non-readers, as even the narrator-author's son, too young to read it, is curious about what his mother is doing).
       While working at the publishing house in New York the narrator became fascinated by the poet Gilberto Owen (an historical figure, who actually did spend time in America). She tried to convince her boss that he was worth publishing -- and went so far as to commit a fraud in order to make the poet more appealing, with some success.
       The way the novel is presented gives it both a sprawling and an incredibly tight, controlled feel. The narrative moves back and forth between the narrator-author's Mexican present -- dominated by her family life and her efforts to squeeze in some writing time --, her colorful New York past, and then, increasingly, the story of Gilberto Owen. These aren't simply separate storylines either: there's overlap, a sort of bleeding into each other.
       While the set-up can seem somewhat confusing -- and the seemingly drifting character of much of what is recounted seem to provide little hold (note that the original Spanish title translates as 'The Weightless') The writing, too -- or especially -- is well-crafted, playful even as it touches on the very serious. Luiselli also manages particularly well maintaining a sense of fundamental uncertainty, from the mundane everyday concerns of wife and mother, to ghostly presences, to, lastly, even the ground below no longer providing stability.
       A wonderfully rich text -- and nice slice(s)-of-New-York novel --, Faces in the Crowd is -- despite being less than 150 pages long -- an impressively substantial work, in every sense.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 April 2015

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Faces in the Crowd: Reviews: Other books by Valeria Luiselli under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Valeria Luiselli was born in 1983.

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© 2015 the complete review

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