Criticism & Features

Year 2020: 30 Books

Grieving by Cristina Rivera Garza: 2020 Criticism Finalist

By Richard Z. Santos

Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker (The Feminist Press)

Grieving begins with a description of tortured bodies hanging from a bridge. It ends with Cristina Rivera Garza listing dozens of reasons why she, and also each of us, must keep writing, keep documenting, keep witnessing, and, therefore, keep hoping. 

In 2019, Rivera Garza was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant for her work exploring language and memory through her poetry, fiction, essays, and hybrid work that combines it all. Grieving is her attempt to grapple with the horrific violence that has threatened to overwhelm her native country and that has permanently altered how America (the largest consumer of drugs in the world) views Mexico.

Grieving is a difficult book to pin down. On the one hand this is absolutely a book about violence in Mexico, but it’s also a book about human suffering in general. To say she blends the political and the personal would be to diminish the range of her skills. This book contains personal essays, biographical sketches, explorations of historical documents, an essay that’s more of a collage, collections of aphorisms, elements of poetry and fiction, and much more. 

This liveliness keeps the book from ever getting bogged down in melodrama or trauma porn. 

Ultimately, Rivera Garza surveys the forces wreaking havoc on the poor and marginalized in order to find what connects us all. Grieving itself:

“And this is the importance of suffering, for where suffering lies, so, too, does grieving: the deep sorrow that binds us within emotional communities willing and able to face life anew, even if it means, or especially when it means, radically revising and altering the world we share.” 

It’s not quite accurate to say the book ends on an optimistic note. Rivera Garza would dismiss the notion of such an easy takeaway. But the point of Grieving, and grieving itself, is to find connection and community through confronting and exploring our shared trauma. After all, as Rivera Garza says, “We are just guests on the surface of the land that we experience in common.”