Wisdom From Kammbia Story Review 21: River People by Yamile Saied Mendez

by | Apr 3, 2023 | Marion's Favorites, Marion's Reading Life Blog, Short Story Review, Wisdom From Kammbia Column, Wisdom of Kammbia Story Review | 0 comments

“Malena had skills that no one could explain, not even her. When they were alive, her parents thought that her ability to speak to ghosts meant she was a bridge between this world and that of spirits, between their ancestral home in Ireland and the new one in Argentina.

Instead of being a bridge, Malena was the cause of tension in what remained of her family–three children who didn’t know how to function in the world after so much loss. But even in her grief, Malena only knew not to refuse a gift. Ignoring the voices was worse than refusing.

So when the river Parana spoke, she listened.”

Those opening paragraphs come from the first two pages of an excellent short story titled River People by Yasmile Saied Mendez.  River People is part of the important short story anthology, Reclaim The Stars edited by Zoraida Cordova. This anthology of the fantastic brings voices from across the Latin American diaspora to the forefront in a genre that should always be open to stories that take readers to unfamiliar places.

River People tells the story of Malena O’Rourke, the youngest of three remaining O’Rourke children that lost their parents to cholera a year prior. Malena has the gift to listen to the voice of a nearby river, Parana.  The river gives her warning about Miguel, the eldest, as he attempts to cross the river with cattle owned by a rich man named Don Osorio.

Malena discovers from the river that Miguel’s crossing will be a trap and Osorio is not an honorable man. Miguel wants her to become a good Christian girl and uphold her end of maintaining the family’s name and legacy. He is determined to cross the river and immediately succumbs it.  Malena attempts to save him but gets a request from the river and begins her connection with it for good.

We should learn from the story to accept and embrace any gift we receive, even if those close to us don’t understand or can’t see it, in order to become who we are truly meant to be. Mendez does an excellent job in bringing out that lesson in the story and Malena learns it just in time.  River People is a solid story that I highly recommend.


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