LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Argentina can be beguiling. But its grand, European architecture and lively coffee culture obscure a dark and sometimes macabre history. Under the country's dictatorship, thousands of people were tortured and killed. Children were kidnapped, sometimes to be raised by their parents' murderers. That troubled past sets the backdrop for Mariana Enriquez's new book of unsettling and gruesome short stories called "Things We Lost In The Fire." She joins us now from Buenos Aires. Hello. Welcome.
MARIANA ENRIQUEZ: Hello. Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In these stories, there's a feeling of the supernatural that becomes more and more present as the story goes on. What draws you to this idea of domestic horror?
ENRIQUEZ: To me, it's a mixture that comes very natural when I think about the tradition of my literature, of the literature that is written in my language. And when I mean my language, I mean language of Argentina - not only Spanish. And, also, me as a person and as a writer - I'm very interested in that kind of weird fiction. I'm interested in ghost stories. I'm interested in witches. I'm interested in the occult.
But I'm also interested in inequality, in social issues, in violence in our societies, in what's happening or what happened politically in our country, especially in my country. So to me, when I started writing stories, I thought, how can I mix this? And the mix was there. It was in the tradition. It was very close to me, and it came very natural to me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk a little bit about what overshadows all of this, which is, of course, Argentina and its history. You hear echoes of it in the stories. You know, in one of the stories, a little girl disappears into a haunted house, and she's never seen again. In another, a young boy is murdered in what could be a satanic ritual. Argentina has a difficult history. We know that children were taken from their parents during the Dirty War under Argentina's dictatorship. And then they were often raised by people that weren't actually their parents, but they were supporters of the then-government. Is this an echo of that very difficult history?
ENRIQUEZ: I did not try specifically to write about the dictatorship and its consequences in the present. But I couldn't hide away from it when they kept appearing in the stories. I'm 43. I'm a bit older than the children that have disappeared but not all of them because some have my age. Some are older, et cetera.
But what always haunted me once I knew the stories of the children is that there's a question of identity. I don't know if they were who they were, if they were raised by their parents or by the killers of the parents or were given by the killers to other families. So there is a ghostly quality to everyday life.
So it's almost like something is floating in the air, something that is not resolved. And there's a fear - a real fear - that was in the air that kind of got through my skin. And that mixed with the literature I love, kind of produced the stories that I'm writing now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about women because most of the characters, with one notable exception - most of the characters are women in your stories. And there's this instability that's haunting the women in - each in different ways. Can you talk about that and why that is?
ENRIQUEZ: I wrote the stories in quite a long period of time. And being a woman - gender issues, feminism, everything was in there in the last few years. And it kind of made me think about me as a woman. It was not something I did consciously. I don't think very interesting fiction comes when you are very conscious of something. And I started to think about all these impositions on women's body and...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the women in your stories are perpetrators of violence, as well as victims of violence. They're on both sides of that.
ENRIQUEZ: Yeah. Yes, of course. I think, in the end, that's real equality, I think (laughter). I don't want to write about women that are good and that don't leave, you know, footprints in the snow - angelic women, goddesses. I think women should be - in fiction, also be allowed to be villains, also be allowed to be brutal.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What I'm hearing here is that you, like some of the characters that you write about, are reading things in the newspaper or seeing things around you, these dark moments and stories, and weaving them into your fiction. Why are you so drawn to the darkness?
ENRIQUEZ: I guess I've always been a dark child. I was a bit lonely when I was little. And fiction is very important in my life. I think half of my life I live in fiction. And the fiction I love is a very dark world. And the fact that I know that this exists there somewhere - it's a weird thing to say, but it comforts me, I think. Yes.
ENRIQUEZ: There's comfort in the darkness for me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mariana Enriquez's short-story collection is called "Things We Lost In The Fire." Thanks so much for being with us today.
ENRIQUEZ: No, thank you very much. It was wonderful.