Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Magic Dogs of San Vicente by Mark Fishman

The Magic Dogs of San Vicente by Mark Fishman
First published in Canada by Guernica Editions in March 2016.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Dogs

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Magic Dogs of San Vicente is set in the aftermath of the war in El Salvador (1980-1992), a war in which the two Flores brothers were arrested and savagely tortured, but a war that they ultimately survived. On a heat-soaked morning in El Salvador's wild countryside, the Flores brothers encounter something -- part vision, part phantasm, part shuddering echo of their past -- that almost frightens them out of their wits. What follows is a magical, dream-like and picaresque journey, as the Flores brothers try to find what will set them free from the thing that they have witnessed and from the tragedies of their past.

The Magic Dogs Of San Vicente is set in El Salvador some twenty-five years after a time of great violence and disappearances. The Flores brothers, Jose Matias and Wilber Eduardo, were arrested and tortured during this time and, although they survived more or less physically intact, are still haunted by what they saw and were made to do during their imprisonment. On the day when this book is set, they see and are terrified by a mystical apparition from yhis past and we meet them as they are hiding behind boulders unsure whether to run or remain concealed.

Fishman is a Canadian author, but has obviously immersed himself in South American fiction as well as defining a unique style of his own. I loved the magical sweeps of imagination and intricately detailed observations, his breathless stream-of-consciousness writing and the rhythmically repetitive prose which, at times, felt like the refrains of some ancient epic poem or ballad. I have since read other reviews though where readers strongly disliked this book for exactly the same reasons so I guess it is a 'Marmite' read - love it or hate it! The magic dogs themselves are always at the periphery of our story, but Jose Matias and Wilber Eduardo mostly have centre stage as they tried to find a buried talisman with which to defeat the apparition and overcome their fearful memories. There are many levels of meaning in this novel. Beautifully-drawn human characters interact with magical and mythical creations; Spanish and Mexican words, phrases and poetry are woven into the prose; the long, long sentences sweep up readers sometimes for over a page at a time before briefly releasing us. I don't think I have ever read anything quite like The Magic Dogs Of San Vicente before!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Mark Fishman / Contemporary fiction / Books from Canada


  1. It sounds interesting but I'm worried their experiences would be too much for me to take. I mean, depending on how graphic the torture scenes are.

    1. I'm pretty squeamish but was ok with this novel. The memories are portrayed more as surreal magic than graphic and gruesome