Leni crossed her arms, said nothing, and watched the fight unfold. She was like a bored onlooker at a boxing trial, wasting no energy on the undercard, saving her passion for the moment when the real champions would step into the ring. And yet, at some point, she began to cry. Just tears, without any sound. Water falling from her eyes as water was falling from the sky. Rain disappearing into rain.The Wind That Lays Waste begins in the great pause before a storm. Reverend Pearson is an evangelist preaching the word of God across northern Argentina with Leni, his teenage daughter, in tow. When their car breaks down, fate leads them to the workshop of an ageing mechanic, Gringo Brauer, and his assistant, a boy called Tapioca. Over the course of a long day, curiosity and a sense of new opportunities develop into an unexpected intimacy. Yet this encounter between a man convinced of his righteousness and one mired in cynicism and apathy will become a battle for the very souls of the young pair: the quietly earnest and idealistic mechanic’s assistant, and the restless, sceptical preacher’s daughter. As tensions among the four ebb and flow, beliefs are questioned and allegiances tested, until finally the growing storm breaks over the plains.Selva Almada’s exquisitely crafted debut, with its limpid and confident prose, is profound and poetic, a near-tangible experience of the landscape amid the hot winds, wrecked cars, sweat-stained shirts and damaged lives, told with the cinematic precision of a static road movie, like a Paris, Texas of the south. With echoes of Carson McCullers, The Wind That Lays Waste is a contemplative and powerfully distinctive novel that marks the arrival in English of an author whose talent and poise are undeniable.
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