The Bitch by Pilar Quintana: Blog Tour and #WITMonth 2020, Part I

My first selection for Women in Translation Month is an intense Colombian novella originally published in 2017 and translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. The Bitch, which won the Colombian Biblioteca de Narrativa Prize and has been preserved in a time capsule in Bogotá, is Pilar Quintana’s first book to become available in English translation.

The title is literal, yet its harshness is deliberate: It’s clear from the first scene onwards that this is no cosy tale for animal lovers. Doña Elodia, who runs a beachfront restaurant, has just found her dog dead on the sand, killed either accidentally or intentionally by rat poison. Just six days before, the dog had given birth to 10 puppies. Damaris agrees to adopt a grey female from the litter. Her husband Rogelio already keeps three guard dogs at their shantytown shack and is mean to them, but Damaris is determined things will be different with this pup.

Damaris seems to be cursed, though: she’s still haunted by the death by drowning of a neighbour boy, Nicolasito Reyes, who didn’t heed her warning about the dangerous rocks and waves; she lost her mother to a stray bullet when she was 14; and despite trying many herbs and potions she and Rogelio have not been able to have children. Tenderness has ebbed and flowed in her marriage; “She was over forty now, the age women dry up.” Her cousin disapproves of the attention she lavishes on the puppy, Chirli – the name she would have given a daughter.

Chirli doesn’t repay Damaris’ love with the devotion she expects. She’d been hoping for a faithful companion during her work as a caretaker and cleaner at the big houses on the bluff, but Chirli keeps running off – once disappearing for 33 days – and coming back pregnant. The dog serves as a symbol of parts of herself she doesn’t want to acknowledge, and desires she has repressed. This dark story of guilt and betrayal set at the edge of a menacing jungle can be interpreted at face value or as an allegory – the latter was the only way I could accept.


I appreciated the endnotes about the book design. The terrific cover photograph by Felipe Manorov Gomes was taken on a Brazilian beach. The stray’s world-weary expression is perfect.

The Bitch is published by World Editions on the 20th of August. I was delighted to be asked to participate in the blog tour. See below for details of where other reviews and features have appeared or will be appearing soon.

 Are you doing any special reading for Women in Translation month this year?

12 responses

  1. Sourcing books you don’t plan to buy is quite a problem at the moment of course, but I’ve just manged to reserve from my library Stories of the Sahara, reviewed here: https://clairemcalpine.com/2020/08/18/stories-of-the-sahara-by-sanmao/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My library has a pretty good selection of literature in translation. I keep coming across more as I’m shelving. My next one for #WITmonth will be one you’ve read, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982.

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      1. I hope you enjoy it. It’s a quick read so you’ll probably crack it before breakfast.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m only reading WIT during August and I’ve had such a run of excellent reads, and noting those I’d like to read in future. This sounds like a tough read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely — unless you have a strong stomach for animal cruelty I can’t really recommend this one.

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  3. Thanks so much for supporting the blog tour x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries! Thanks for letting me be involved.

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  4. This sounds intense alright. Lisa Dillman is a great translator though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think I’d encountered one of her translations before.

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      1. She translates Andres Barba and I thought she captured the atmosphere perfectly.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. […] second choice for Women in Translation Month (after The Bitch by Pilar Quintana) […]

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  6. This sounds like such a striking story. And I agree that the cover image is very effective; her expression is so complex. I’m not participating specifically in WIT month but I have been trying to boost the number of translated works in my reading this year overall (so far, so good): reading is such a great way to expand one’s experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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