Dead Girls by Selva Almada could have been set in any part of the world, and that’s a tragedy really. Dead Girls, as the title suggests is a story of dead girls – the cases of three small-town teenagers murdered in the 1980s – three deaths whose perpetrators went unpunished, and there was nothing done about it. Three deaths without culprits even – just being overlooked – a casual affair almost.
Dead Girls is about a time when violence against women goes unpunished (still does, doesn’t it? For most part?). There was nothing specifically outstanding about the women who died, nothing spectacular – just the virtue of them being women. That was enough for them to be dead. And that made me stop and think about India. India and Argentina in that sense are the same. Well, like I said it could’ve been set in any part of the world – given how femicide occurs everywhere. In some parts of the world not very much, in some others too much to want to warrant forgetfulness.
Almada’s story is about three women – Andrea, Maria Luisa, and Sarita – a journalistic record of sorts (yet fiction and yet not) about what happened – written in the vein of In Cold Blood by Capote. It could be the story of so many women who are victims of violence, and some whose stories don’t see the light of the day. Crimes that go unreported. Bodies that are never found, and lives that aren’t acknowledged.
Almada takes into account all of it – the story morphs from what the narrator’s mother said to what someone else’s friend said – the friend who lived, the sister who survived, and accounts of other lives that are spoken about by way of gossip and nothing else. The writing doesn’t give any closure to the deaths of these women – don’t read this book expecting that. People are always judging these three women – their career choices, what they wore, how they behaved, somehow making their deaths justifiable. What hits the hardest is that it still happens almost everywhere. The negating of women’s voices, the drowning of what they have to say, and almost whitewashing all that took place and happened.
The translation by Annie McDermott is on-spot – from the smells of a small crowded bus, to the food they eat, to the description of a run-down building, each sentence shines – resonating the original – interspersed with words from Spanish, and making you at times as a reader feel the reading experience is complete.
Dead Girls is steeped in mystery, patriarchy and what it means and does, and ultimately validating lives lost, not only of these three women, but of so many more, so many – every single day.