The Volcano Daughters

Pantheon. Aug. 2024. 368p. ISBN 9780593317235. $28. F
DEBUT Balibrera’s haunting debut traces the lives of Graciela and Consuelo, sisters who escape 1930s El Salvador in the wake of genocide and political unrest. Born into a close-knit community of Indigenous women at the foot of a volcano, Graciela and Consuelo were separated at an early age, with Graciela staying near the volcano and Consuelo being whisked away to the capital city in 1923. After several years, the sisters are finally reunited in the San Salvador, where they cautiously navigate a world governed by the whims of a menacing, increasingly unstable dictator. Soon, simmering political tensions erupt into chaos, resulting in La Matanza, a massacre that leaves each sister thinking the other is dead. Grief-stricken and shell-shocked, they each separately flee the country. Throughout the continent-spanning, decades-long journeys that follow, Graciela and Consuelo are accompanied by the ghosts of their slain comrades—Lourdes, María, Cora, and Lucía—who serve as an otherworldly chorus, supplying background information, pointed commentary, and often-unheeded advice. Spanish words and phrases are interwoven throughout the novel, challenging readers to sink into Balibrera’s lushly described world, where meaning is found through experience rather than translation.
VERDICT A devastating story of sisterhood, community, and memory, quietly magical and utterly unforgettable.
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