#RivetingReviews: Lizzy Siddal reviews HER MOTHER’S HANDS by Karmele Jaio

It took more than a decade for Karmele Jaio’s prize-winning 2006 novel to make its way to the English-speaking world. That journey should have been much quicker, because Her Mother’s Hands, 144 pages of structural interest, intertextuality and tender emotional intelligence make rewarding reading.

Written in straightforward, open language, the book’s aim is to spotlight that which is hidden in everyday lives.

‘Her mother’s hands rest on top of the sheet. Her hands cover the name of the hospital, as if she wanted to hide where she is … Just as through the years she hid so many sighs and tears, drying them on her kitchen apron.’

Nerea’s mother, Luisa, has been found wandering the street in a state of disorientation.  She does not recognise her daughter, nor her son. Indeed she recognises no one until the arrival of her sister Dolores, who has lived abroad for many years. At which point, a chink into her past opens. Having been overheard calling for Herman (not her husband, Paulo) in her sleep, during her conscious moments she demands to be taken to the lighthouse.

Herman? Lighthouse? This is all a complete mystery to Nerea. Dolores explains it in perhaps my favourite among Jaio’s many fine metaphors. Likening humans to a wardrobe painted brown, but with chips of the original white paint showing through, she says:

‘We repaint ourselves endlessly, putting one event on top of another … But one day we take a hit … and other layers can be seen, earlier ones.’

While Dolores recognises the impetus behind her sister’s request, it is something that breaks her apart. Thanks to clever interweaving of the past with the present, the reader understands Luisa’s yearning but not yet enough to comprehend why Dolores reacts as she does.

Nerea also has her secrets. She is as haunted by a man called Karlos as Luisa is haunted by Herman. Karlos’s arrival back in town is the tipping point for a woman already struggling with a full-time job and a bullying boss, and her guilt at not seeing much of her young daughter and not recognising the first signs of her mother’s illness. A terrorist attack in a nearby town brings her to the edge of a nervous breakdown: ‘She is not okay. Like a car bomb, something has exploded in her mind.’

Fortunately Nerea realises that to prevent herself unravelling completely, she must stop running hither and thither, and that unlocking her mother’s mind, making her remember who she is, demands a holistic approach – something more immersive than showing her old photographs. The hundred-kilometre trip to the lighthouse might not be so crazy after all …

It is a matter of perspective. In the final scene three women are leaning over the edge of a cliff next to the lighthouse. Viewed from the sea by an unknowing observer, it looks as if they are preparing to jump. On land, however, the women are watching the waves crash onto the rocks below – the waves from the past that have been threatening to overwhelm them. Now that their secrets are no longer hidden, we understand that Luisa, Dolores and Nerea are facing down those waves, changing the present and enabling recovery and a more emotionally rewarding future.

Reviewed by Lizzy Siddal


By Karmele Jaio

Translated by Kristin Addis

Published by Parthian Books (2018)

Read The Spanish Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy books from The Spanish Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Spanish Riveter bookshop.org page.

Lizzy Siddal is a British bibliophile and book blogger of sixteen years. She publishes her reviews at Lizzy’s Literary Life (Volume Two) where she co-hosts Reading Independent Publishers Month each February and German Literature Month each November.

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE LIQUID LAND by Raphaela Edelbauer

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of WE ARE DOING FINE, THE OLD KING IN HIS EXILE and HINTERLAND by Arno Geiger

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of RESILIENCE by Bogdan Hrib

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of A GUARDIAN ANGEL RECALLS by Willem Frederik Hermans

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of ALL HUMAN WISDOM by Pierre Lemaître

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE BLACKSMITH’S DAUGHTER by Selim Özdoğan

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of BERLIN by Jason Lutes

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of TYLL by Daniel Kehlmann

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of DARK SATELLITES by Clemens Meyer

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE EIGHTH LIFE by Nino Haratischvili

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of MISSING OF CLAIRDELUNE by Christelle Dabos

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of WHITE SHADOW by Roy Jacobsen

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of DREAMERS: WHEN THE WRITERS TOOK POWER – GERMANY 1918 by Volker Weidermann

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of HOW A GHASTLY STORY WAS BROUGHT TO LIGHT BY A COMMON OR GARDEN BUTCHER’S DOG by Johann Peter Hebel

Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE MENTOR by Daniel Kehlmann

Category: April 2023 – The Spanish RiveterThe Spanish RiveterReviewsThe Riveter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *