An engaging slice of magical demi-realism, Cristina Sanchez-Andrade’s The Winterlings (Restless Books) tells the story of the Winterlings, two sisters who have returned to the out-of-time village of Tierra de Cha years after their grandfather’s murder during the Spanish Civil War. The isolated village is a collection of decidedly eccentric types. Among them a cross-dressing dentist who robs the dead of their teeth to use on his patients, an obese priest who smells of the priesthood and an elderly woman who refuses to die – in part because the sisters’ late grandfather Don Reinaldo bought her brain so he could examine it after her death and nobody knows where the written agreement is. They eye the sisters carefully, wondering what their return portends.
Sanchez-Andrade lovingly depicts her cast of Spanish rural grotesques, giving each one space to bluntly speak for themselves. The two sisters have their own dark secrets, of course, most tellingly around the younger prettier Dolores’ eight-day marriage to a sailor in England.
As The Winterlings progresses, the siblings’ return brings to light all manner of secrets within the village. When Dolores briefly leaves to audition for a stand-in role in a movie starring Ava Gardner (the 1951 fantasy Pandora and the Flying Dutchman), the sisters’ own strained relationship is put to the test.
Packed with sly wit, enchanting snippets of Flannery O’Connor-styled gothic fantasy and period rural detail, Sanchez-Andrade’s novel is a captivating read. A reminder in itself that a mélange of fascinating humanity can reside in the most removed of places: something worth remembering in an age where whole populations can get openly and broadly stereotyped based on their land of origin.