Sabrina and Cornia by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Title: Sabrina & Corina: Stories
Author: Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Genre: Short stories, Literary Fiction
Topics: Female relationships, violence, mother/daughter dynamics
Triggers: Violence, death, domestic abuse
Publisher: One World
Publishing Year: 2019
Format Read: Hardcover
My Rating: 5/5
Fajardo-Anstine is a bright and powerful new voice that demands attention with her centering of a marginalized voice and holds that attention with the raw power of her narrative. Her combination of a wonderful storytelling voice which brings the characters and setting to life and the attention to history and heritage in her work is evident on every page. I genuinely struggled between reading it all at once and reading one a day to make it last longer. I couldn’t resist and ended up finishing it in two days.
Summary: Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit. Set against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado–a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite–these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force. Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.
The first time I saw this book on Bookstagram, I’ll admit I was drawn in by the cover (which, you have to admit is absolutely stunning) and by the fact that it was a collection of short stories (which I had been meaning to read more of) and that fact that it was a collection of storied centering the voices of Latina women of indigenous descent in the southwest (which is unusual in publishing) this is all to say that although although I was eager to read it when it came out I was not prepared to be absolutely floored by the power of Fajardo-Anstine’s voice. These stories are short and powerful snippets of the violence and beauty that women experience in their lives. They are dark, but at times also funny. They feel familiar, but also teach us of a people whose stories have been sanitized from the history test books. Sabrina and Corina has not only become one of my favorite short story collections but I am already calling it for one of my favorite reads of 2019.
There is something about Fajardo-Anstine’s voice and its mixture of wry humor, vivid realism and strong female centered narratives that appealed to me immensely. These stories are raw, often violent, and incredibly honest. They might be a little too much for some readers, fair warning. For example, the titular short story Sabrina and Corina contains a graphic description of the preparation of a corpse for a funeral and allusions to domestic violence, but her style just really worked for me and I found myself mesmerized. Fajardo-Anstine actually did address the reactions that she received for writing about violence as a woman during her talk with Ivelisse Rodriguez at the New York Public Library which I found fascinating, but I do understand that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Partially why I think I found her writing to be so effective is that Fajardo-Anstine does an excellent job of mixing various emotions so well into a potent, realistic portrait of women and the relationships they have with themselves, each other and their wider communities. So there is violence, yes, but there are moments of happiness, sisterhood and love too, and these moments come across so well in each and every story.
Alongside her keen sense for writing relationships, Fajardo-Anstine also grounds her stories in a visceral sense of place. All of these stories whether they are set in California, Colordo or New Mexico, each one evokes the landscape in a way that makes it part of the story and a key part of the character’s background and community. You get a sense reading these stories that the characters are somehow connected to the land and that the land is a part of them too. It is a beautiful homage to the cultural and historical ties of the people who live in the southwest.
Ultimately what amazed me the most was how much I enjoyed each story in this collection. Generally with short story collections, I find that there tend to be hits and misses. Of course, I have some stories which I particularly enjoyed namely Sabrina and Corina, Sisters and Any Further West stand out in my mind but really each and every story was consistently brilliant and evocative. Sometimes celebratory and sometimes somber in tone, each individual story and the collection as a whole paint a brilliant portrait of Latina women of Indigenous descent in the Southwest. This collection is a triumph and I cannot wait to see what Fajardo-Anstine comes up with next.
Read if you like:
Examinations of female relationships
A very grounded sense of setting