One Out of Two by Daniel Sada, trans. by Katherine Silver

This delightful novella translated from the Spanish, about identical twins and the tricks they play, asks questions about identity and loyalty and answers them with glee.

one out of two

Daniel Sada (Almost Never) died in 2011, but the prolific Mexican writer left behind many short stories, novels and poems. Katherine Silver has translated his humorous novella One Out of Two into English for the first time.

“Now, how to say it? One out of two, or two in one, or what?” Constitución and Gloria Gamal are identical twin sisters, and this is their shared identity and life’s work. At 13, they were orphaned by a car wreck, but they did not notice for weeks, not until they ran out of food, so consumed were they with one another. Now in their 40s, they dress alike, wear the same makeup and hairstyle; whoever gets up first in the morning gets to choose that day’s attire for both. They have practiced the same gestures and mannerisms until they are indistinguishable. They even switch names from day to day. (“Why shouldn’t they!”) Established as seamstresses in a small Mexican town where everyone knows them–but can’t tell them apart–they take pleasure in their indistinguishability, the singular quality in their mundane existence.

This strange, even surreal description of twinned lives begins Sada’s magnetic tale. Then a problem challenges the Gamal sisters’ contented tricks of identity: one of them meets a man. They brought this startling element of difference into their lives somewhat on purpose, when they decided to send only one twin to a wedding, expressly because they believed she would have a better chance of catching a male eye if she were not half of a whole. After all, “this business of having a double can be vexatious, almost almost leech-like.” So Constitución comes home to announce: “I danced all night with a slender man of interesting age.” The novel calls this “her best sentence ever,” and it may well be, but it is not Sada’s; his winding, lyrical, frequently abstract language is one of the great joys of this comical, silly and touching story.

Of course, the introduction of a suitor raises questions for the twins. Separate or share? He has no idea that there are two, and so they take turns in romance. But two women who have split everything up to this point find a man harder to enjoy as equals. The tension of One Out of Two is related to illusion, deceit and identity, as Constitución and Gloria discover envy and competition for the first time. In a mere 100 pages, Sada dances his reader through these conflicts and on to a joyfully droll and loving conclusion. His playfulness with language, plot and character make One Out of Two a true pleasure; his readers’ only regret is that it is over so soon.

This review originally ran in the October 22, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 7 grape sodas.

2 Responses

  1. I most definitely have to read this!

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