In the small German village of Westerwald, ten-year-old Luisa’s father frequently tells his family that they must “let more of the world in.” When Luisa’s grandmother, Selma, dreams of an okapi, a rarely seen African animal with “its zebra shanks, its tapir haunches, its giraffe-like rust-red torso, its doe eyes and mouse ears,” just that happens – the world is let in along with all of its heartache and, later, all of its joy. Mariana Leky’s novel, “What You Can See From Here” (2017, translated by Tess Lewis into English in 2021; Farrar, Straus and Giroux), shares a heartfelt and beautiful view of this small town situated in the great world around it, along with a hint of matter-of-fact magical realism.
Selma’s okapi dreams are known throughout Westerwald as an omen of death. When word gets out, everyone in town proceeds to write letters, tell burdensome secrets, and prepare themselves for what may be coming, mostly while denying that they believe anything will happen.
Death does pay a visit, however, slightly later than expected and in a surprising way. Though the town is grief stricken, over time, much more of the world is let in as well – unrequited love, a visitor from far away, and a possibly immortal dog, among other strange and wonderful events and circumstances.
Leky’s Luisa is a straightforward and seemingly direct narrator who serves as an interesting main character – her storytelling veers into the omniscient at times, and though the novel has her at the center, she struggles throughout with overcoming her “blurriness,” or her place as someone who lets things happen around her rather than a person who makes active decisions about her own outcomes. Luisa is surrounded by sweet and charming individuals, the majority of whom are significantly older than her, but who all trod right alongside her, navigating life, love, loss, and belonging amongst a touch of superstition and fairytale-like backdrops.
Check out “What You Can See From Here” at your closest Denver Public Library location or as an ebook through denverlibrary.com.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.