Anxos Sumai has been a regular online diarist, and this gave rise to her first two books, Guardian Angels (2003) and Melody of Used Days (2005), diaries that function as novels. Since then, she has published two more works of fiction, This Is How Whales Are Born (2007), which won the Repsol Short Fiction Prize and made her the Galician Publishers’ Association author of the year, and Harvest Moon (2013), awarded the García Barros Prize for best novel and the Spanish Critics’ Prize. Anxos Sumai has worked as a radio journalist, contributing weekly reflections to the programme Cultural Diary on Galician radio during 2006, We Are Dangerously Normal, for which she received the Roberto Blanco Torres Prize for literary journalism and opinion.
Photograph © Manuel Martínez
THIS IS HOW WHALES ARE BORN synopsis
This Is How Whales Are Born (170 pages) is Anxos Sumai’s third work of fiction and tells the story of a woman who returns from her studies in Mexico to visit her sick mother and the city where she spent her childhood. The book is divided into three parts: ‘Mother Writes a Letter’, ‘A Thousand-Pound Heart’ and ‘The Pail Follows the Rope’.
THIS IS HOW WHALES ARE BORN
Starlings, crickets, a white silence, a vowel that decides to fly out of a sentence and crashes into the whitewashed walls and the floor of terracotta tiles. Sounds. The sky like a sheet. When I am deposited on the balcony and open my eyes, the sky doesn’t stop moving. I try to grasp it, but can’t. I am distracted by a fly, the distant barks of a dog – woof, woof – the delicate movement of the plants Felisa grows on the balcony. Nothing is still: it must be because of restless time lurking stealthily inside things.
What can it be that frightens me and makes me laugh, I wonder. That sound only I can hear, that wakes me and forces me to be a wolf and search, search everywhere, with pricked up ears. The others can’t hear it, I know because they don’t flinch. Or it could be that they are used to it, to that sound coming from the other side of the street, scaling walls, perforating the table legs and coursing down the swollen veins that clamber up Felisa’s legs. I don’t know what it is. It’s a faint beating sound or the rubbing together of two metal spheres. When Felisa sits down to her embroidery, I can sometimes make out the interrupted sound the needle makes as it pierces the linen fibres or the wounded ‘ah!’ of the silk the needle crosses with the soft impulse of the skill of the embroideress’ finger. Later, peacefully, the threads slide down the cloth in a long, monotonous sentence, ceasing to be inoffensive fibres in order to turn into magnificent embroidery. The thread enjoys passing through the eye of the needle, succumbing to it, the great guide, the leveller of virgin paths, and then resting in the new and delightful circumstance of being the petal of a flower, the feather of a bird, a link in the double hemstitch of a tablecloth.
Thanks to Felisa’s skill, the vulgarity of a thread wound around the stomach of a wooden bobbin acquires the status of beauty.