Mexican Novel Catapults Onto World Stage

Following its release last February, Brenda Navarro’s riveting debut novel Empty Houses made waves across Mexico. Now, what has been acclaimed as “one of the best-kept secrets of Mexican literature” is set to take the world stage, with the first English-language editions – translated by Sophie Hughes – releasing in the UK early next year.

The story explores a role more sacred and complex than perhaps any other: motherhood. As Navarro immerses us in the urban fabric of Mexico City, the perspective alternates between two women – a mother whose child is abducted, and a working-class woman across town who takes the child and then takes it on as her own. This bilateral voice provides a dynamic lens into the most gut-wrenching maternal conflicts, the pressure of societal norms, and the searing effect of love, grief, and longing. 

Empty Houses, thus, is a narrative to which many can connect. For Mexicans, however – including Navarro, a Mexico-City native – the story is especially poignant. 

Brenda Navarro author of “Empty Houses” ©Montse Mármol

Since the War on Drugs began in 1964, over 61,000 Mexicans have been murdered or kidnapped, leaving countless mothers childless. This compounds age-old trauma; from the genocide and enslavement of Latinx peoples at the hands of European conquistadors, to the rife casualties of the fight for independence from Spain, the agony of loss is inextricably woven into the Mexican psyche. By crafting an emotive saga of maternal anguish, Navarro engages these wounds, weaving an intricate tapestry of pain and empathy – the two protagonists her cloth and needle. 

Stepping forward from her success within Mexico, Navarro is collaborating with Daunt Books Publishing, an independent London-based firm, founded in 2010. The Empty Houses release is part of Daunt’s audacious new initiative, Daunt Books Originals – a cache of “innovative and unexpected books” from authors across the globe, whose stories “speak to each other across borders and languages.” 

The catharsis of “Empty Houses” is certainly one that transcends lingual or national borders. At our core, we are not Mexican or English; we are mothers and fathers, we are sons and daughters, and we are human – united not only in our struggle against grief, but in our resilience, our courage, and our devotion to those we love.

Isaiah Maynard for Times Media Mexico