After receiving widespread acclaim for the autobiographical Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes, Mexican writer Jazmina Barrera delivers a dreamy yet compelling exploration of female friendship and coming of age in her fiction debut.
In Cross-Stitch, Mila finds her world shattered when she gets word that a childhood friend, Citlali, has drowned in the sea in Senegal. Few details are available about this shocking news, leading Mila to wonder if the death was an accident or suicide. As she organizes Citlali’s memorial service, Mila begins to sift through memories of Citlali and their mutual friend Dalia, whom she hasn’t seen for years. Sewing has long been central to Mila’s life—in fact, she’s just published a book about embroidery—and the three girls often sewed together. Now Mila muses, “I haven’t worked out how to sew and think about Citlali without pricking my fingers.”
Mila and Citlali had a middle school teacher who pointed out “that the words ‘text’ and ‘textile’ had the same root: the Latin texere, to weave, braid, or compose.” Throughout Cross-Stitch, Barrera weaves, braids and composes the story of the trio’s friendship into a plot so convincing and emotionally intelligent that readers may mistake it for a memoir, while seamlessly incorporating intriguing tidbits about the history of embroidery. The notes cover topics ranging from embroidery in ancient Egypt to a recent global campaign using crochet to raise awareness of the destruction of coral reefs due to climate change. Barrera’s prose is insightful and precise, and MacSweeney’s translation conveys a natural, conversational rhythm.
Barrera aptly writes: “While techniques for healing wounds have evolved over the centuries, a needle and thread are still commonly used. Something in the tissues, in the weaves . . . may offer answers to how other wounds can be healed.” As Mila desperately tries to make sense of both their shared history and Citlali’s loss, Cross-Stitch draws readers into the many strands uniting Mila, Dalia and Citlali.