Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro, translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle (“What name do you give a woman with a dead child? I’m not a widow, I’m not an orphan, what am I?”)

Elena knows that her daughter was murdered. She doesn’t know who did it or why. She can’t figure out the motive. She can’t see it. So she has to accept it when the coroner and Inspector Avellaneda and Roberto Almada all say it was suicide. And she knows everyone else says it silently to themselves. But it was raining. She’s the mother, and it was raining. That changes everything. But she can’t prove it on her own. She won’t be able to do it by herself because she doesn’t have a body.

p. 50

The story begins with Elena’s struggle to take the train into the city. No, it starts even before that, when Elena tries to lift her foot to walk.

The trick is to lift up the right foot, just a few centimetres off the floor, move it forward through the air, just enough to get past the left foot, and when it gets as far as it can go, lower it. That’s all it is, Elena thinks. But she thinks this, and even though her brain orders the movement, her right foot doesn’t move.

p. 1

Elena has Parkinson’s, which she has nicknamed Herself, ”because when she thinks about it, she thinks ’fucking whore illness.’ And a whore is a she, not a he.” The activities of the day must be scheduled around her medication since it takes so long for the levodopa to work, and it will only give the directions to her limbs for a certain number of hours. That is why Elena is taking this trip, to Buenos Aires, to see Isabel Mansilla, to recruit another body to help her.

Elena knows that her daughter, Rita, is dead. Rita’s body was found hanging from a rope in the church belfry, but Elena knows that somebody else killed her. Because it was raining the day Rita died, and she avoided going near the cross on a rainy day.

And Elena thinks, she knows, that this couldn’t have just changed all of a sudden, even on the day of her death. Even though no one will listen to her, even though no one cares. If her daughter went to the church on a rainy day it was because someone dragged her there, dead or alive.

p. 26-27

Our library has labeled this book with a sticker which reads Mystery. While it is a mystery, it is so much more than that. At the core, I read to discover how Rita did, in fact, die. But I also want to discover why. In the journey I take with Elena, I am a victim of Parkinson’s myself. Every nuance of the disease is portrayed so skillfully, I wondered if I would be able to lay the book down and walk to the kitchen for a fresh drink of water. I felt encumbered myself, by a disability beyond my control, just from reading Pineiro’s pages.

At the end, I marvel at Elena’s courage. Her undaunted strength carries her to the very edge of Hell, and yet she faces her life bravely and continues on.

Without her daughter.