‘Toward Happy Civilisation’ by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

Mouthful of Birds contains a number of wonderful stories, but perhaps my favourite is ‘Toward Happy Civilisation’ which begins like a Western and ends like an out-take from Kafka’s Amerika. It starts simply enough with a man being refused a train ticket. As a result, the train does not stop and the man is stranded and is soon lodging with the station master and his wife, yet he refuses to abandon his dream of boarding the train. The story performs a deft sleight of hand when the perspective shifts from being entirely Gruner’s and draws back (“Gruner’s actions that first day are the same as this of everyone who has ever been in his situation”) to emphasise his dream is not unique. Like so much of Schweblin’s work, the story’s ending allows us to feel something we already know only when it is revealed.

First published in Spanish in Pajros en la boca, 2010, and in English in The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2019, and available to read online here. Collected in Mouthful of Birds, Oneworld, 2019

‘Birds in the Mouth’ by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Joel Streiker for PEN America

Samanta Schweblin has been one of my favorite short story writers for years, so it’s been thrilling to see her gain so much international notoriety recently, with her Man Booker International Prize-nominated novel, Fever Dream. I highly encourage you to seek out her translated short fiction, available online in places like the New YorkerGranta, and Words Without Borders. Her themes include children, adulthood, fertility, consumerism, and environmental illnesses. I had to go with ‘Birds in the Mouth’ as my favorite, due to its relentless exploration of a young’s girl’s appetite (is there anything scarier to society than a young girl who knows exactly what she wants, and unceasingly pursues it?), and its central question: “what it would feel like to swallow something warm and moving, to have something full of feathers and feet in your mouth.”

Available to read online here. First published in Pájaros en la boca y otros cuentos. Editorial Lumen, 2010