The Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez

Our next example of translated speculative fiction is The Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez, a magical realism novel translated from French by Howard Curtis.

threadsoftheheart“Go on, open it!”
Her fingers numb with cold, Frasquita lifted the lid.
The box was full of reels of thread of all colors and hundreds of pins stuck in one of those small cushions that seamstresses carry on their wrists instead of bracelets. Fixed to the lid with thin leather straps were a pair of finely worked scissors in a little red velvet casket, a simple thimble and, carefully lined up along a wide blue ribbon, needles of different sizes.
“It’s just a sewing box,” her mother murmured. “Nothing but a sewing box!”

When Frasquita reaches puberty, her mother tells her a secret — the women in her family pass down to each other a black box, and if they can resist the temptation to open it for nine months, they are given a gift. Frasquita receives a magical sewing kit, which gives her the power to sew anything back together. As she works to support her family, people say she’s a sorcerer, and it’s certainly true that the dresses she creates make the wearer instantly beautiful, and can hide any deformity (or pregnancy!).

During the course of her life, as she endures a loveless marriage to an indifferent husband, social ostracism thanks to her strange powers, and finally exile and a long journey from Spain to Morocco, her gift enables her to keep her family together. Eventually she passes it on to her own daughters, from Angela who has a strange affinity with birds, to Clara who needs sunlight to live, and whose skin is luminescent.

I was profoundly moved by this novel, which at its heart is about the strength of women to endure hardship together with dignity, whether they are mothers and daughters, sisters or friends. The cast is full of wonderful female characters, and the elements of magical realism are included so beautifully, and so subtly, that it’s easy to forget that it’s fantasy! And while it may be fantasy, the book doesn’t shy away from the reality of a women’s lot in a time when they were at the mercy of whichever man owned them.

The Threads of the Heart is unlike anything I’ve read in a long while, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an unusual feminist read in lyrical prose.

This book also reminded me of The Seamstress by Maria Duenas, which also has sewing as its core theme, and is another story of a women’s struggle to survive, set against a backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.

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