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Book Public: Review of 'Home Reading Service' by Fabio Morábito

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Fabio Morábito
Fabio Morábito

Home Reading Service is the English-language debut of Fabio Morábito, translated by Curtis Bauer. The central story in this novel is a fable about an unlikely literary awakening in Mexico.

The protagonist, Eduardo Valverde, is a 34-year-old narrator living in Cuernavaca, known as “a city that had no soul, only swimming pools.” He runs his family’s furniture store and is being extorted by an organized crime ring.

After being found responsible for a car accident, he must do community service, which involves establishing a home reading service and becoming a "home-reader" of literature for people in need—homebound folks or others who are not able to read on their own.

His heart is not in his readings at first, and these performances are met with boredom, even irritability. He’s being forced into this community service, after all. He has no interest in reading aloud—or in reading or in books.

But one participant, a paralyzed woman, somehow encourages his reading, finds his voice mesmerizing. She considers him to be a true artist—like the writers whose masterpieces he reads aloud. He begins to fall in love with her.

He becomes preoccupied with a sensual poem by a Mexican poet that his cancer-stricken father had copied out by hand and starts sharing it during his readings in the homes of his clients.

This sharing elicits a poetry craze in the “uncultured” city. He is suspicious that his father must have had a mysterious romance with the poet, or with someone connected to her.

The preoccupation grows. The mystery does, too, and intersects with the other conflicts in the story, including the crime ring that extorts money from Eduardo and from the owner of El Caracol, the used bookstore, the patrons in their homes (each with quirky behaviors and each with a deep dislike for Eduardo), and the longtime caregiver, Celeste, who cares for Eduardo’s elderly father and somehow, though uneducated, can intuit poetry—even though she never learned to read.

Eduardo’s interior monologue becomes more layered over time in this role as a reader. He had so long been indifferent to the literary works he read—all the ones that were out there in El Caracol–that used bookstore that is also being extorted. His reading—even with his sonorous voice—had for so long been uninspired and flat, unfeeling.

Eventually, he reads, not because he has to, but because he wants to–because he is able to feel—and feel for—everything and everyone around him.

Fabio Morábito is the author of Home Reading Service. It’s translated by Curtis Bauer and published by Other Press.

Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.