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The Rifle, and Other Stories translated by M. L. Clark is a Shake Off Winter Doldrums pick #books

Title: The Rifle, and Other Stories

Author: Tomás Carrasquilla, translated by M. L. Clark

Genre: Short stories, classic Colombian literature

Book Blurb:

Tomás Carrasquilla is known as Colombia's first novelist. Writing at the turn of the 20th century, his stories and novels ranged from a realism informed by local Catholic culture to Spanish-colonial costumbrismo. The stories collected here reveal a striking attention to everyday and festive details of Colombian life during a shift from haphazard ruralism to worldly urbanism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Also included are an introduction to the author in his context, a glossary of older Antioqueño terms, a glossary for plantlife in the prose, and a study guide for the tales in their traditions.



“Blanca” is a first name and word for “white.” In Spanish, it bears associations not only with purity but also the white circle at the heart of a target. All such references are apt for this story, which advances many plays on that term (not all directly translatable) while depicting the role of childhood innocence in a family shaped by both love and precarity, and also presenting the danger of setting such high expectations on children to sustain a home.


It’s something between a monument and a park. Rising imposingly, it extends to target the overhang on a pomegranate tree. The box in which papa’s copy of Practical Medicine arrived serves as its base; the first level is a tin mold, broad and fluted, in which mama once simmered puddings and natillas; the second, a salmon jar; an upside-down porcelain cup forms the dome; and for the pièce de résistance in this stupendous construction, there she stands, tall, white, upright, her little hands clasped, her face to heaven: the “Virgin Mary” of terracotta, a gift from “Handsome-to-the-Máximo”. Thickets of fennel head, fuchsia and heliotrope bushes, and eggshell-white pots all surround the grandiose display.

Still its genius creator is unsatisfied. Like Solomon in the Holy Temple, she wants to encrust it with all the riches imaginable. She dashes to the garden and, without fear of thorn or worm, bites off the imperial rosebuds with her mousy teeth—discarding, with her little hands lost in the flowers, any stray bits of white frangipani and basil among them. She flies to the coop and collects all the down left behind by the Caracas chickens and pigeons. Panting, her cheeks flushed, a reared-up horse on the verge of tipping over, grasping at her apron in both hands so as not to lose one iota of this rich bounty, she returns to the work, and more friezes, crests, and cornices emerge in that rapture of inspiration.

And what a work! It has all the charm of the uneven, the confused, the jumbled, the absurd stamp of a child’s aesthetics. To those divine eyes of the Virgin, never has there been raised a sanctuary more beautiful.

In the grand courtyard, or more accurately, in the kitchen’s herb garden, abutting the wall that separates garden and outer bath, all this comes to pass. So too does the August sun, ripening fruits, sprouting seeds, disseminating life and joy. But not alone: protrusions of shade lengthen from the charichuela and sweet-orange trees lined up on the west side, extending to reach the clean, fresh-cut grass, as calmness reaches the spirit after a moment’s exaltation.

The girl, once finished her great work, turns to its consecration, as we would say. On her knees, her hands clasped like the Virgin’s, she prays in gasps the Blessed Be Your Purity; repeats it even more hastily; continues with the Lord’s Prayer; then, with expressions and single words of prayer and exclamation, strings together a spate of pure babble, its inarticulate gaps filled with nonsense that only Mary could understand. This is not enough for the girl: As if one of Jacob’s angels had possessed her, she breaks into a celestial-comedic delirium. “Darling Virgin Mary! Beautiful Virgin of Mommy and Papa! Virgin Mary of Pepito and ‘Handsome-to-the-Máximo’, of Alberto, of the baby, and of Carlitos!” Soon after she raises her voice an octave and emits a metallic, vibrant sound; soon after that, her voice breaks into linguo-palatal dry noises, or is modulated by soothing hums; sometimes she sings, at times she murmurs, at times she talks, and, whether in a hurry or hesitantly, she always proclaims. In this improvisation, she mentions everyone in the house, without forgetting Pedro (the help), and without forgetting her friends, and even less forgetting Cheres, her godmother.

In the courtyard’s shaded corridor, the nanny rocks with the baby in her arms, giving it a bottle, without paying attention to the hubbub or celebrations of the girl. It is the washing woman who, when going to light the stove, hears the commotion. She steps out and the view enchants her. “Look at this, my God! It’s like I’m always saying to Miss Ester: This girl goes un-raised.” And she runs in search of her lady to come and wonder at the view. Ester, needle and stockings in hand, appears in the corridor, lifts the curtain of coral vine, and looks out upon the courtyard. She remains silent for an instant, and then, with that voice, that feigned theatrical accent as silly as it is sublime of mothers, exclaims: “My Queen, you’re going to get a sunburn! Why did you choose such a poor spot to make the altar? So beautiful, so devoted to your Virgin Mary. My white girl, my greatness, my precious velvet.” Because sometimes this girl is “incomparable divinity”, other times “sugar water”—or any one of the thousands of other unprecedented sayings that the mother has invented in her passion.

The lady and her servants need “God and then some” to help the girl move her altar to the shaded corridor. With that flightiness of childhood, little Blanca then leaves the sanctuary and, putting on her shoes, presenting her breeches with pads on the knees and creases behind them, runs for the courtyard, pursuing a sparrow perched on the branch of a cocoplum tree.

“I’m going to try to catch him!” she shouts enthusiastically. And in a flash is in the kitchen, thrusting her hand into the fluffy grains that the cook grinds there, dropping them in her apron, and returning to the courtyard. The bird has gone; but on the roof of the adjoining house a buzzard jumps, black and neurotic, and the girl calls out, “Come down, you greedy thing, so that you can eat the rice.” Then she laughs teasingly, to see that bird so sad, so helpless. “Get down, and I’ll give it to you!” She scatters the grains and, looking up at the sky, exclaims, “Look how pretty the sky is, swept clean, swept clean… Look how pretty! That’s where Carlitos is, with the Virgin.” And she closes her eyes, dazzled by that resounding blue.

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What’s your favorite activity to shake off the winter doldrums?

There’s nothing quite like getting friends together to enjoy a good, hearty, homecooked meal—but if you can’t get folks to make the journey, one can at least stock up on a few wonderful cookies and cakes, for delivery to loved ones when the weather clears. I love a good bundt-shaped coffee cake (lemon-blueberry and apple cinnamon are always winners), an everything-in-the-pantry oatmeal cluster, and sugar cookies by the roll, for easy freezing and slicing off as many rounds as needed. (Try this last with some chopped-up maraschino cherries for a bright, festive boost!)

Alternately, if you can get those friends over, bust out a rich stew of your choosing—and pair it with an easy cheese-and-chive biscuit baked in muffin tins. The important thing is to get the oven involved, so the whole house smells like joy, no matter how grey and grim the world outside!

Why is your featured book a cure for the winter blues?

This collection of classic short stories is set in Colombia at the turn of 20th century. Colombia is an equatorial country, so even when it’s technically “winter” here, crops continue to grow, the weather stays splendidly consistent, and life continues apace—with only cultural festivals and personal dramas to break up life in a world of such rich flora and fauna. You’re not going to find exoticized perspectives here, because to the writer of these stories this was just life as usual—and yet, Tomás Carrasquilla took great pains to record as many details as he could about food, plants, domestic scenes, common myths, Catholic practice, familial hardships, and rural festivals.

It's almost as if he was expressly trying to preserve the way of life most common to people in Antioquia, the department that houses the city of Medellín and dozens of surrounding pueblos. And it certainly worked! So for anyone looking to slip into a completely different way of living, to shake up those Western winter blues, this book of classic stories, told in a richly Spanish style, might be just the one for you.

Giveaway –

One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon US or Canada gift card

Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US or Amazon CA account to win.

Runs March 1 – 31, 2023.

Drawing will be held on April 3, 2023.

Author Biography:

Tomás Carrasquilla was born in 1858 and died in 1940, by which point he was known as Colombia’s first novelist, widely acclaimed for books like La marquesa de Yolombó (forthcoming later this year). But while that text is a work of historical fiction, imagining colonial centuries prior to his era, these collected stories represent Carrasquilla’s observations of life at the turn of the 20th century in and around the city of Medellín. Carrasquilla was not a fan of European realism; he wrote stories that served the Catholicism of his readership, while also being pragmatic about everyday hypocrisies. Christian readers in particular might enjoy his representation of Catholic life in a Latin American context, at a time when the church’s colonial histories were still a point of pride for many; where life’s hardships for children, disabled people, and people in poverty were not to be ignored; and where a different body of witchcraft lore intersected with Christian beliefs.

M. L. Clark is a Canadian who now calls Colombia home. A writer of speculative fiction and humanist essays, Clark’s work translating the stories and novels of Tomás Carrasquilla is pure passion project, and a way to give thanks to a country that has made so many other creative labours possible.

Social Media Links:

@mlclark (Counter.Social)

@M_L_Clark (Twitter)

2 comentarios

07 mar 2023

Reading keeps the winter blues away for me!

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N. N. Light
06 mar 2023

Thank you, M.L., for sharing your new release in our Shake Off Winter Doldrums!

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