An NYRB Classics Original
Silvina Ocampo is undoubtedly one of the twentieth century’s great masters of the short story. Italo Calvino once said about her, “I don’t know another writer who better captures the magic inside everyday rituals, the forbidden or hidden face that our mirrors don’t show us.” Thus Were Their Faces collects a wide range of Ocampo’s best short fiction and novella-length stories from her whole writing life. Stories about creepy doubles, a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks to a girl, a house of sugar that is the site of an eerie possession, children who lock their perverse mothers in a room and burn it, a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote that the cruelty of Ocampo’s stories was the result of her nobility of soul, a judgment as paradoxical as much of her own writing. For her whole life Ocampo avoided the public eye, though since her death in 1993 her reputation has only continued to grow, like a magical forest. Dark, gothic, fantastic, and grotesque, these haunting stories are among the world’s finest.
Like her friend Julio Cortázar, [Ocampo] wrote with fascinated horror of Argentinian petty bourgeois society, whose banality and kitsch settings she used in a masterly way to depict strange, surreal atmospheres sometimes verging on the supernatural. She could reproduce with devastating accuracy the intonations and the peculiar idiom of the Buenos Aires middle classes. Yet her irony was always so subtle and restrained, it could produce effects of unexpected illumination on the life of her times.
Silvina Ocampo is one of our best writers. Her stories have no equal in our literature.
—Jorge Luis Borges
Silvina Ocampo is, together with Borges and García Márquez, the leading writer in Spanish.
Few writers have an eye for the small horrors of everyday life; fewer still see the everyday marvelous. Other than Silvina Ocampo, I cannot think of a single writer who, at any time or in any language, has chronicled both with such wise and elegant humour.