March 2023


By Gerardo Sámano Córdova
Review by
In his debut novel, Gerardo Sámano Córdova attempts to describe the nameless grief of losing a child by showing how resisting it can destroy us.
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There is no word in the English language for someone who has lost their child. We have orphan for children who have lost their parents and widow or widower for a person who has lost a spouse, but we dare not give a name to the tragedy of losing a child. However, in his debut novel, Monstrilio, Gerardo Sámano Cordova attempts to describe this nameless grief, not by giving it a name but by showing how resisting it can destroy us.

The novel begins with Magos, a grieving mother who cuts out a piece of lung from the body of her deceased 11-year-old son, Santiago. When Magos returns to her childhood home in Mexico City, she discovers that the piece of lung can be fed, and she slowly nurtures it into something new. When this creature becomes the titular Monstrilio and begins to resemble her dead son, Magos and her husband, Joseph, try their best to care for it. However, Monstrilio’s innate, destructive impulses jeopardize their son’s second chance at life, and the characters are forced further down the path of grief toward something like acceptance.

Sámano Cordova’s writing is piercing and intimate. Whether describing Monstrilio’s first, vicious moments of life or the subtle, strained romance between Magos and her childhood friend Lena, Sámano Cordova keeps readers breathless. By splitting the book into four parts, narrated by Magos, Lena, Joseph, and Monstrilio himself, Cordova allows us to see the different sides of this tragic story; combined, they are more than the sum of their parts. 

Some of the novel’s best moments are the flashbacks, when Magos, Joseph and Santiago share loving moments together, seek a method of healing for the boy and reckon with the fragility of life. When we see the monster that Santiago’s lung becomes, complex and grotesque and pitiful as it is, it troubles these tender moments, showing how grief often fixates on pain, trapping us in an interminable cycle. Sámano Cordova doesn’t attempt to break the cycle; rather, his novel seeks to embody it, making this nameless, eternal pain something we can speak to and hold.

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By Gerardo Sámano Córdova
ISBN 9781638930365

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