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The Story of My Teeth

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I was born in Pachuca, the Beautiful Windy City, with four premature teeth and my body completely covered in a very fine coat of fuzz. But I'm grateful for that inauspicious start because ugliness, as my other uncle, Eurípides López Sánchez, was given to saying, is character forming.

Highway is a late-in-life world traveler, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer. His most precious possessions are the teeth of the "notorious infamous" like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf. Written in collaboration with the workers at a Jumex juice factory, Teeth is an elegant, witty, exhilarating romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City and Luiselli's own literary influences.

192 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 2013

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About the author

Valeria Luiselli

33 books2,115 followers
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City in 1983 and grew up in South Africa. Her novels and essays have been translated into many languages and her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Granta, and McSweeney’s. Some of her recent projects include a ballet libretto for the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, performed by the New York City Ballet in Lincoln Center in 2010; a pedestrian sound installation for the Serpentine Gallery in London; and a novella in installments for workers in a juice factory in Mexico. She lives in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,304 reviews
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
964 reviews6,812 followers
September 12, 2015
My luck was without equal, my life was a poem, and I was certain that one day, someone was going to write the beautiful tale of my dental autobiography.

Literature has a unique role in the discussions of truth and ideas. When we tell a story we dress the themes and messages up in an elegant wardrobe of fiction and send them out to seduce the audience. Fiction and lying may seem like blood-relations, yet the major function of a lie is to deceive while fiction’s function is to illuminate. The stories may have some bearing in a true event or may be completely fabricated, yet through the art of storytelling we deliver ideas that are far more digestible through their entertainment and fancy than cut-and-dry explication. Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sanchez Sanchez, collector, auctioneer extraordinaire and focal character of The Story of My Teeth, the second novel by the enchanting Valeria Luiselli (Faces in the Crowd), has developed a method of storytelling to elevate the intrigue of his auction lots that involves ‘an elegant surpassing of the truth’ in an effort to capture the essence of an object. Highway becomes a conduit for Luiselli to examine the metaphysics of words and the proximity between the signifier and the signified through a kaleidoscopic collection of stories and storytelling. Created through a collaboration with Luiselli and the workers at the Jumex Juice factory in Mexico—a factory that also houses and funds a contemporary art gallery—, Luiselli crafts what she terms a ‘novel-essay’ that uses fiction in order to understand fiction in a more academic sense without skimping on the fun. The Story of My Teeth is an ambitious and fascinating unique multi-platform collaborative art piece that succeeds on all its many levels of exploration to discuss the illuminating power of storytelling to enhance the power of the objects being examined.

The factory produced juices. And the juices, in turn, produced art... I was in a sense the gatekeeper of a collection of objects of real beauty and truth.

The Story of My Teeth began when Luiselli was commissioned to write a piece for the Galaria Jumex on ‘the bridges—or lack thereof—between the featured artwork, the gallery, and the larger context of which the gallery formed part.’ Luiselli wrote Teeth in installments which were then read aloud to the factory workers in the style of former ‘tobacco readers’, an idea that began in a cigar factory to read aloud to workers to reduce the fatigue of the mundane job. Luiselli was then sent recordings of the book group discussions formed by the workers and the story was continually shaped by the reactions and life stories of the workers to form a unique and curious collaborative effect between artist and audience. Highway’s in-novel story takes on a similar creative collaboration as his ‘dental autobiography’ is dictated to his ghost-writer Jacobo de Voragine (who makes several appearances and has his own first-person account in a later chapter). Highway concluding paragraphs by stating ‘End of memory,’ or 'End of declaration,’ or something to a similar effect is realized to be the seam between him and his ghost-writer, concluding as such to signal to Voragine to stop writing. It is, admittedly, a bit twee, but it works. There is also a unique collaboration between author and translator, with translator Christina MacSweeney adding a timeline of her own creation that connects Highway’s life with a history of literary events that are present on varying levels in the novel. Luiselli says the translated work is a ‘version’ of the text and views the concept of an invisible translator as an obsolete idea in a work about collaboration and the functions of storytelling.

Places and things are made up of stories.

The Jumex factory, the workers and the art on display in the gallery (there is even a section of photographs of the actual places mentioned in the novel to add another layer to the unique and exciting organization of this multi-media work of art) all play a large role in Teeth, though many of the names and details were changed. This lead Luiselli to further questions on art and author.
How does distancing an object or name from its context...affect its meaning and interpretation? How do discourse, narrative, and authorial signatures or names modify the way we perceive artwork and literary text?
Teeth becomes the very impressive and erudite journey towards attempting to answer that question. There is an interesting exchange between Highway and Voragine when Highway begins dictating short stories to accompany each piece of the artwork they steal from the gallery:
But if we use the real artists names, Voragine said, we’ll get caught.
Yes, good thinking young man. We will have to modify them.
But if we modify them, he went on, the objects will lose their value.
No they won’t.
Yes they will.
Voragine, please shut up and write this down.
Highway creates short stories that are irrelevant to the actual artists intention for their work, but the cumulative effect produces something uniquely beautiful on it’s own. This technique often occurs in literature, writing poetry from the experience of seeing a painting or adopting photographs and altering their truth to fit and illuminate the fiction of a work (recently Mario Bellatin, who is briefly mentioned in the novel, did this in his Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose For Fiction).

The regular connection between a sign, its sense, and its reference is of such a kind that to the sign there corresponds a definite sense and to that in turn a definite reference, while to a given reference (an object) there does not belong only a single sign - Gottlob Frege

The altering of names of artists is also examined through Highway’s actions. Highway frequently quotes from actual authors and philosophers, except these quotes are attributed to family relatives such as ‘my cousin Juan Pablo Sanchez Sarte,’ ‘my uncle Miguel Sanchez Foucault,’ or a hilarious passage about morning erections attributed to ‘my uncle Marcelo Sanchez-Proust’. Luiselli distances the proximity between name and actual object, yet does not alter the message at hand. These actual people become (to quote Foucault) ‘singular lives transformed into strange poems through who knows what twist of fate.’ They have become stories themselves, a way of surpassing the truth to make it more fluid and adaptable to the story at hand without sacrificing the content, only elevating its usage. Along with the adapted quotes, each chapter begins with a quote about the relationship between names and objects from great minds such as Bertrand Russell or John Stuart Mill (their actual names accompanying the quotes).

There is in all men a natural propensity to magnify or extenuate what comes before them, and no one is contented with the exact truth.

Highway has mastered the ‘Hyperbolic Effect’ of an auctioneer. Highway auctions off a collection of teeth—his own teeth—to a church parish to raise money for the church. When announcing his lot, he tells stories about the fictional owner of each tooth, from Virginia Woolf, C.K. Chesterton to Enrique Vila-Matas², drawing a connection between tooth and famous person through a tale relating to their teeth.
I could restore an object’s value through “an elegant surpassing of the truth.” This meant that the stories I would tell about the lots would all be based on facts that were, occasionally, exaggerated or, to put it another way, better illuminated.
Is this not essentially the purpose and effect of fiction? It may not be the Truth, but it is perhaps as equally valid and more adaptable. Parables are a common theme of the novel, which are a great way of expressing a moral or a message by elucidating it through story. Parables were the great tool of Jesus in the Bible. The parables he told were not real events, but stories that were more meaningful than a simple lie, stories that delivered a message we can all understand and shape. It is, perhaps, another element of collaboration in which the creativity of the teller and the intellect of the receiver must connect to discern the truth behind the fiction.

The Story of My Teeth is a brilliant and effective piece of artwork that surpasses the normal definition of a novel. A multi-layered, multi-media, collaborative product, this novel-essay elevates a discussion of art theory into a parable we can all walk around with in our hands, heads and hearts. Wildly comic, surprising and eloquent, Teeth is a story about stories made up of stories that never feels like a gimmick or a cheap literary trick. Which is an astounding accomplishment, especially for such a young and new writer on the scene. I eagerly await her next novel, Valeria Luiselli is a brilliant author and has a promising career that I can’t wait to continue following.


I wasn’t just a lowly seller of objects, but, first and foremost, a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object.

¹ Note that there are no quotation marks around the dialogue in the novel. This further reflects the collaborative effect of Highway’s autobiography being dictated as, in effect, the entirety of the novel would be encased by a single set of quotations.

² Luiselli is a powerful and important new voice in the Latin American literary tradition and pays homage to her predecessors and contemporaries. Authors like Alejandro Zambra, César Aira (Emir, take note) or Jorge Luis Borges, are briefly mentioned to pay tribute to their influences and many of their styles make brief cameos as well as their names. Luiselli shows respect for those who have taken the Latin American literary culture to where it is today, takes their efforts to heart, and advances upon them to help propel literature towards further bright horizons. She is a true gem.
Profile Image for Jaidee.
605 reviews1,199 followers
April 7, 2021
3 "humorous, creative but also tedious" stars !!

Most(est) Fun Review Written in 2020 Award

I have to keep this review short. This is one of my BFs favorite books. He has read this five times and has badgered me to read this for years. He loves this book and mentions it often, brings it up at dinner parties, at galleries, on the bus and sings about it in the shower. He needs me to worship this novel and I, alas, simply cannot. Even drinking eight daiquiris on the Beach in Belize did not make me love this book. Sorry bae !

But I did like this book with reservations. Funny, at times very funny. Creative but way too clever.

This book tickled my funny bone but did not reach my warm heart.

Profile Image for Fionnuala.
791 reviews
March 20, 2020
The story of my teeth: a recollection in six installments

The first story is one my mother used to tell, and which I listened to with more attention than to other family stories because in this one I was the main character. It seems that when I was about three, there was a gathering at our home to honour my father's great aunt who was celebrating her ninetieth birthday. One of the relatives brought along a tape recorder to record the old lady's reminiscences but she refused to speak into the 'machine'. The relative then decided to interview the youngest member of the family in the hope of encouraging the oldest.
"Where did you get your lovely teeth?" was the first question.
"Mammy bought them in Thamers" was the answer which caused everyone to laugh, including my great aunt, not only at the mispronunciation of the name of our local shop but because that shop was the only one in the village and almost everything we had came from there. It was a grocer shop, a newsagent, a clothing shop, a seed merchant and a fuel provider. It also offered taxi, undertaking and auctioneering services. About the only thing it didn't deal in was teeth!
There is a lot of buying and selling of teeth in Valeria Luiselli's book, and much of it happens at auctions.

Second story

When I was five, my mother took me to visit her sister who lived in a large town with many shops including one that sold delicious ice-cream. Each day while I was there, my aunt bought me a giant ice-cream. After a few days of eating ice-cream and other sweet treats, I had a sore tummy and was taken to the doctor. Oddly, it was my teeth the doctor was most concerned about. He told my mother that I was the only child in that town with such a perfect set of teeth and that she should take me back to her remote village as soon as possible. And so she did. Soon after that, our undertaker-grocer got an ice-cream machine but my mother never forgot the doctor's advice. No ice cream was bought for her children although I eventually got a cavity in spite of her care, and had to have a tooth filled.
There is no ice-cream mentioned in Luiselli's stories but there are cavities and fillings aplenty.

Third story

I was a child who believed everything I was told, so when I started to lose my baby teeth, I became very curious about the tooth fairy. If she could turn up at our house every time I lost a tooth, I presumed she must live nearby. I became convinced that the hollow in the old chestnut tree in the garden was her home. That hollow was a little too high for me to see into and so it had always seemed a tantalizingly dark and mysterious space. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that if only I could peer into it, I would see the tooth fairy. So I dragged an old chair out of the garden shed and placed a fruit crate on top of it and climbed up. Just as I came level with the hollow, the fruit crate collapsed and I fell off my perch. But before I fell, I had a split-second view of the inside of the hollow, and I saw the fairy. The image I registered, and which I can still see in my mind's eye, was of a tiny figure in a pale pink dress. She seemed to be sleeping—she lay on a carpet of dark mulch and I could see slim white legs beneath her dress. I told no one about my fairy, just held the image close to my heart for a long time. Of course later I realised she must have been a fragment of chestnut blossom left behind by the wind.
There are no chestnut blossoms in Luiselli's book but many, many old chairs and even some fruit crates.

Fourth story

When I was about the age of Saint Apollonia, whose teeth were wrenched from her mouth with hammers and pliers in the second century, I had four of my teeth removed in the space of an hour. Unlike poor Apollonia, I was anaesthetised while the teeth were being extracted but when I woke up, it felt as if someone had smashed my jaw with a hammer.
Those were my wisdom teeth, by the way, and that was the year I got married.
Saint Apollonia has a role in Luiselli's story, and this painting by Andy Warhol is mentioned.

Fifth story

Since I cut my reviewing teeth here on goodreads ten years ago, there has been one author who seems to find his way into the most unlikely of reviews, a little the way a piece of spinach will always get trapped between your teeth. He's not everyone's favourite author so those of you whose teeth are set on edge by the very mention of his name need to grit you teeth now, because, not to put a tooth in it, I'm about to mention Marcel Proust. Marcel lived beneath a dentist's consulting rooms and although he was a peaceful person in general, he was often reduced to gnashing his teeth at the sound of the dentist's drill coming from overhead—in spite of his bedroom's cork-lined ceiling and walls. The problem was exacerbated by Marcel being a night owl and sleeping during the day. Marcel wrote many letters of complaint, not to the dentist but to his wife who lived above the dental practice. He'd always start the letters discussing literature, music or art, but he invariably finished with a plea to reduce the noise. Those letters of complaint were published in a limited edition some years ago though I'm guessing they are as scarce as hen's teeth now—but if you do get a chance to read them, you'll see that they are remarkably restrained considering the delicate state of Marcel's neurasthenic-inclined nerves.
Incidentally, neurasthenia as well as Marcel's sleep habits are mentioned in Luiselli's book.

Sixth story

Although my nerves are not as ultra sensitive as Marcel's, my teeth have been very sensitive for the last couple of months. The dentist said there was nothing to be done and that the sensitivity would lessen with time. I was patient for a while but then went back for a second opinion. It seems my teeth are not sensitive at all—a fissure had developed in a very old filling allowing hot and cold drinks to upset the nerve. A root canal treatment was decided on, and I've had the first stage of that treatment. But the root canal expert only visits my dental practice every second Friday and I was due to have part two of the procedure tomorrow. Yes, you've probably guessed it, the treatment won't be happening. The expert comes all the way from Madrid, and with the present Covid 19 lockdown, she won't be traveling. My dentist feels I'll be ok with stage one for a while. We'll see.
No root canal treatments were mentioned in Luiselli's book but there was a quote about a fissure: As Quintilian says, a hyperbolic is simply “a fissure in the relationship between style and reality.”
The fifth episode of the story of my teeth probably has a deep fissure in the relationship between style and reality—in the form of some unfortunate stylistic exaggerations and clichés. Mea culpa, as Quintilian might say.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
December 7, 2020

When I began this, I soon started to pay close attention to the names, and began writing them down.

Julio Cortázar – neighbour
Rubén Darío – kiosk
Unamuno - oldman
Samuel Pickwick
Leroy Van Dyke -singer The Auctioneer
Luis Felipe Fabre – doctor
Marilyn Monroe
Agustín de Hipona
Francesco Petracca (sic)
Señor Montaña (Montaigne in good French)
Señor Rousseau
Charles Lamb
GK Chesterton
Virginia Woolf
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges
Enrique Vila-Matas
Raymond Roussel
Sergio Pitol
Chema Novelo

Then I marked those who were relatives of the narrator, Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez. But as both Gustavo’s parents had the same name, it was impossible to tell from the list of relatives, who was so from his father’s or mother’s side.

Miguel Sánchez Foucault – uncle
Marcelo Sánchez-Proust
James Sánchez-Joyce
Juan Pablo Sánchez-Sartre – cousin
Fredo Sánchez Dostoievsky – uncle
Ludwig Sánchez-Wittgenstein – uncle.

Soon there were no more Sánchez – no more relatives, but the list got more numerous and named with a greater cadence:

Quintiliano Rangel – friend
Roberto Bálser – singer / poet
Winifredo Gómez Sebald
Alex & Lute Smiths
Ugo-sin hache-Rodinone
Josefina Vincens
Jorge Hernández
Jorge Ibargüengoitia
Juan Gabriel Vázquez
Juan Villalobos – cosmetólogo
Daniela Tarazona
Lina Meruane – MP
Julian Herbert
Keith Richards
Madame Le Calvez
Antonio Ungar
Juan Álvarez
Laia Jufresa – yoga teacher
Juan Villoro
Martín Caparrós – owner of Armory

We then came to the circle of Gustavos, namesakes of the Narrator:
Gustavo Díaz-Ordaz
Gustav Theodor Fechner
Gustave Flaubert
Gustavo León
Gustav Mahler
Lida Gustava Heymann
Gustav Klimt
Gustava Kielland

After that Circle - not the Circle of Fifths - the dropping on names continues - not namedropping.
Juan Cicerol
Juanito Sideral
Don Hernán el Bravo – Singer
Willie Nelson
Johnny Cash
Javier Rivero
Alan Pauls
Margo Glantz
Primo Levi

We encounter the writer:
Valeria Luiselli – Young girl – daughter of Mrs Weiss and Mr Fischli

Then another run on names. Some more famous than others.
Juan Gaitán
Maria Inés Gaitáan
Guillermo Sheridan
Tito Livio
Octavio Paz
Yuri Herrera
Vivian Abenshuhan
Daniel Saldaña París
Verónica Gerber
Julio Trujillo
Mario Bellatin
Franz Kafka
Alejandro Zambra Infantas
Heriberto Yépez
Don Héctor Toledano
Slobodan Milosevic
Madama Tenemoslava Miklos
Slavoj Zizek

Then we encounter the Writer’s husband:
Álvaro Enrigue Soler

And the list continues:
Doña Paula Abramo
Juan José Arreola
Oscar de Pablo
Pablo de Pablo
Paco Goldman Molina
Señora Guadalupe Nettel
Guillermo Fadanelli
Jorgue Guillermo Federico Hegel
Guillermo Fadanelli
Pablo Duarte
Janis Joplin

Profile Image for Rae Meadows.
Author 7 books414 followers
September 1, 2016
I think I was really taken with the title of this one, but I probably should have read more about it. It really wasn't for me. I found it mildy amusing at best and really just finished it to finish it. It fits into a tradition of Latin American surrealist/absurdist literature--and I like the story behind it of a collaboration with workers at a juice factory--but this ode to storytelling didn't do much for me. Calling it a novel is pushing it.
Profile Image for Mevsim Yenice.
Author 4 books1,010 followers
October 30, 2017
Kitap oldukça güzel. Kısa ve öz fikrim bu. Ama söylemek istediğim o kadar çok şey var ki, kafam allak bullak.
Kitap hakkında orada burada yazılanlara baktım da "Şenlikli bir oyun" denmiş hep, doğru da, kurgusu falan çok zekice, gel gelelim beni o kısmı etkilemedi. (Muhtemelen yine gariplik bende) Kitabın baş kahramanı Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez beni mahvetti. Neden mi? Bana bir kere daha şunu hatırlattı ki: Gerçek dediğimiz şey, "gösterge" ve "anlamdan" ibaret değil. Durun, çok bulandırmadan anlatmaya çalışıyorum, tamam.
Kitabın uzunca bir bölümünü Sanchez anlatıyor. Kendisi tam bir hikaye anlatıcısı. Bu sayede hiç değerli olmayan parçaları bile müzayedede, üstlerine bir hikaye uydurarak, onlara bir değer, bir geçmiş vererek pahalıya satıyor. Tabii ben bunları okurken dağılıyorum çünkü evet işte, tam da hissettiğim şey bu, yapabilsek, becerebilsek, her nesne, her duygu, başa çıkmaya çalıştığımız her acıya başka bir geçmiş vererek, hikayeyi değiştirerek, çok da mutlu olabiliriz(?) Yapabilsek... İşte bu kitapta bunu becermeye çalışan bir adam görüyoruz. Kitabın yarıdan sonraki bölümünü Sanchez'in hayatını yazmaya ikna olmuş biri anlatıyor. Tabii gerçeklerin aslında nasıl olduğunu da anlatıyor bize. O zaman daha da yerle bir oluyorum. Olsun. Ben ne olursa olsun, Sanchez'in anlattığı bölümü gerçek sayıyorum (kimse öyle yapmayacak bunu biliyorum ama ben de Sanchez'e inanmazsam çok kırılacak gibi bir histen kurtaramıyorum kendimi) Kitap şenlikli falan diyeceğim ama dilim varmıyor işte, değil. Baya baya hüzünlü, sürükleyici ve kurgusuna hayran bıraktıran bir kitap. Çevirmen harika iş çıkarmış, takdire şayan.
Ayrıca öyle bir alıntı var ki kitapta, siz ne hissedersiniz bilmem ama beni inanılmaz etkiliyor ve en kötü olduğum dönemlerde neden Disneyland'a gitmek istediğimi, bir zamanlar "yaşamak güzel çünkü daha gidebileceğim bir sürü Disneyland var" diyerek neden etrafta gezdiğimi açıklıyor bana ilk defa. Ard arda okuyorum bu cümleyi, defalarca. Bir şey beni çok üzüyor o an, sonra anlıyorum, artık ben de öyle hissetmiyorum çünkü gerçeğe farklı bir hikaye vermeye çok çabalasam da onu değiştiremediğim aşikar. Kaybettim. Hepimiz kaybettik!
"Disneyland diğer her şeyin gerçek olduğuna inanalım diye hayal ürünü olarak sunulur bize." Jean Baudrillard.

Profile Image for JimZ.
1,061 reviews495 followers
June 6, 2020
About 10 pages into his book I was going to consign it to the Do Not Finish section of my library (actually I got it from the public library but you catch my drift… 😉). But I didn’t do a DNF…I kept on going and I am glad I did! This is such a hard book to describe or characterize. Even one of the reviewers’ blurbs at the beginning of the book said as much: “Wonderful and strange, ‘The Story of my Teeth’ transgresses against straightforward storytelling by witnessing and remixing to make something so fresh and new that it defies description”.

The main protagonist is Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sanchez Sanchez, “a late-in-life world traveler, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer”. He was born with four premature teeth. They eventually fell out, and his permanent teeth were crooked. So by and by he eventually has them pulled and ends up with Marilyn Monroe’s teeth. She doesn’t need them at that point (she’s dead). Sound bizarre? Like something you would not want to read, right? That’s the way I felt, but here I am typing this review after having read the book in one sitting and I have given it four stars.

It is such a cleverly written novel… I was going to give it four stars anyway when I was nearing the end of it just because my admiration grew for the author as I was reading it, but then there was a part near the end which I did not expect in which many, many things that were so weird in the beginning first third of the novel that did not make sense (and which early on prompted me to consider a DNF) suddenly made perfect sense — as much ‘perfect sense’ as this crazy book could make. Does anything what I just said make any sense? I hope at least a little bit…at least so you know I am quite enthusiastic about this novel. 😊

There are seven books within this novel. On the first page of the novel, in Book 1, we are told this from Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sanchez Sanchez:
• This is the story of my teeth, and my treatise on collectible s and variable value of objects. As any other story, this one begins with the Beginning; and then comes the Middle, and then the End. The rest, as a friend of mine always says, is literature: hyperbolics, parabolics, circulars, allegorics, and elliptics. I don’t know what comes after that. Possibly ignominy, death, and finally, postmortem fame. At that point it will no longer be my place to say anything in the first person. I will be a dead man, a happy, enviable man.

Books 2-6’s titles are stated on that first page: Hyperbolics (Book II), Parabolics (Book III), Circulars (Book IV), Allegorics (Book V), and Elliptics (Book VI).

The last book (Book VII), ‘The Chronologic,’ interestingly is written by the translator of the novel, Christina MacSweeney. She gives a timeline of Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sanchez Sanchez’s life from circa 1945 when he was born in Pachuca Mexico to 2013 (year of Sanchez’s death) in which she gives us lots of factoids that were part of the preceding six books of the novel. I thought it was really clever and weird how the last chapter of the book was written by somebody other than the author of the book.

I could not do justice to this book but I came across a wonderful book review in the New York Times by Jim Krusoe (entitled ‘Choppers’ September 13, 2015, p. 11 of the Sunday book review section) which does a fantastic job, without giving away any spoilers…I do hope it entices you to consider putting it on your TBR list: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/bo...

Other reviews:
https://www.latimes.com/books/jacketc... ("…And it’s proof that Valeria Luiselli is one of the most exciting new writers working today"…Carolyn Kellogg )
Profile Image for Juan Morín.
1 review
September 12, 2015
Pieces of text commissioned by an art gallery from giant industrial juice company Jumex, that should tell you something. The great authors of history never treated a novel as a custom-made product, but as an exploration of the human condition.

I find the story of the genesis of this product (book) disturbing: so the original idea was to explore the relation between factory workers and their surroundings with the art gallery, Instead of that we get a postmodern exposition of writers that Luiselli admires. Nothing profound, nothing breathtaking, just curious anecdotes put together by a bourgeoisie girl.

Forget about the lack of social commentary (which was supposedly the point), artistically this book is lacking in any literary merit: no coherence what so every, the narrator (Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez) has no autonomy, no voice to call his own; his discourse comes not from his own psyche, but from the authors (Luiselli) continuos intrusiveness. And that is the major flaw of this novel; Valeria Luiselli is more interested in being witty and referencing other authors than telling a cohesive and significant story.

I would recommend that Luiselli should go back to basics and learn from all the writers she talks about, not just biographic data, but the secrets of their craft. Maybe she should reread La feria by Juan José Arreola: a genuine carnivalesque work of literature.

To end this review, I just want to express my bewilderment with the literary scene in Mexico. How come Luiselli gets more exposure than, say, Yuri Herrera? Is it her looks? Her influential husband? Great marketing on behalf of Sexto Piso and Coffee House Press?
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
December 18, 2015
My three/four star rating is on the fence. I think I don't know enough yet to really review it, so I confess I will have to investigate further. I need to hear more about her and from critics that know more about the situation she is writing about.

I heard about this book from many Best of 2015 lists, and liked the concept of the book: The sort of fabulist tale of an auctioneer, Gustavo "Highway" Sanchez, who is actually an auctioneer of famous people's teeth. The text is part novel, part meditation, part art, but is sort of a mashup meditation on art objects and fame and home and family and the stories we tell and agree to believe in; it sounded right up my alley. Unclassifiable, mixed genres, deliberately incoherent, pastiche, multiple genres, art mixed in, with lots of literary references. The author also talks about it as a series of collaborations. Is it? Not sure, but it could be.

I read it--it's pretty short--and liked it quite a bit. I looked into the author, Luiselli, who just got an award for being a promising artist under 35. She seems intriguing. She's an "it" girl, an art "object" of fame, of the moment, interestingly enough given her book that talks amusingly about the fetishization of someone like Marilyn Monroe's teeth: Oh! To have one! How much would you pay?! Oh, Sanchez! Oh, Luiselli!

I feel like I don't know enough Mexican or even contemporary Latin American fiction (some of it is not even translated into English) to appreciate what it is she is doing and/or failing to do. I know Borges, which this reminds me most of, and I know Marquez, and see her working in these traditions right away. Magical realism/fantasy, with a lot of energy and humor and insight into the nature of stories/lies. Is Sanchez a bullshitter? A liar? Without question. Do you keep reading and being attracted to his lies? Without question. Is this the same for Luiselli, that we read and it is all a tissue of lies and shiny surfaces? I don't know. It IS a shiny, attractive and amusing and smart on a number of levels. I think.

I looked deeper and read some reviews. American reviews almost universally like her, but those that know Mexican literature and Latin American literature complain that she is a superficial and pretentious shadow of writers (writers I don't know, mind you) such as César Aira and Enrique Vila-Matas, and Alejandro Zambra (who writes a blurb for the back cover that calls this text a "bold and brilliant novel"). Luiselli name-drops, in a kind of literary fashion, dozens of artists, mostly novelists and thinkers she likes, but only mentions them. Is this name dropping a comment on superficiality or indeed, as one (scathing) reviewer, Juan Guzman claims, evidence of her superficiality and pretentiousness? I can say that in my first reading I noticed she mentions famous texts (she was a philosophy major as an undergraduate) and not with any depth or particular purpose. Guzman says she needs to read these writers and "La feria by Juan José Arreola: a genuine carnivalesque work of literature." I look up Arreola: Hey, I like carnivalesque literature, Rabelais, and I recognized and like that Luiselli is writing in this tradition. I can't begin to compare, though, because there's nothing by Arreola I can see in translation into English, alas.

Guzman says Luiselli is a marketing phenomenon: she's strikingly pretty, she's admittedly precocious, she has an influential husband and a hip press, Coffee House Press, focusing all their time and energy on her work at the expense of others. I don't know enough to judge this, but I still say, I enjoyed what I read. I like shiny objects waved in front of me sometimes. Is Luiselli just one of those? I hope not.

One thing that bugged me after it had hooked me into the project: Luiselli dedicates the book to The Jumex Factory Staff. Here Luiselli, a hip avant-garde artist of the bourgeois seems to be reaching out to the working class across the isle from her privileged position. In an appendix Luiselli tells us she was commissioned to write the book as a work of fiction for an exhibition as part of the Jumex Collection, a prestigious art gallery funded in part by the profits from the factory. In a way, this is like the Walmart art museum, a large factory that pays its workers very little to work in their factory and at the same time attracts the very rich to its museum.

Luiselli's commission with Jumex is for her to inquire into the bridges or lack thereof between art and the people, between artists and workers. So good idea to collaborate with the workers, right? She begins to write FOR the workers in the factory, she tells us, most of whom it seems to me will not be interested in her esoteric writing. When I first heard of it I thought: COOL! She's writing with the factory members! What a cool collaboration! But in fact, she writes to them disguised as Sanchez, she never meets any of them in the process, only 5-6 read or respond to any of it, and it's not clear to me what any of their responses have to do with the actual writing. I could be wrong!

Collaboration? Feels like further separation, not collaboration. Has nothing to do with workers or work in that factory. Feels like exploitation, to tell you the truth, to say she is working with them (and all the reviews mention this as a cool thing) and not really be working with them in any fundamental way. To claim it as a bridge, but it's not. She sent them little chapbooks of the serialized process and had their comments reported back to her. She never talked to them! So where's the real interaction? She claims many of the stories in The Story of my Teeth are from the workers. If that is so, THAT IS WAY COOL. I need to know more, though to be able to believe her, and I still have questions.

But at THIS moment, I on balance still like it, in my ignorance. If I give her the benefit of the doubt, it is a pretty cool read! The feel of it is interesting and complex and the stories in it about the teeth are funny and the character of Sanchez is cool.
Profile Image for Julie.
555 reviews275 followers
August 13, 2019

Something is happening here and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?


This book is as incomprehensible to me as Bob Dylan was to our parents, and to our children. Nobody got Dylan, like we got Dylan, and so the best I can hope for the story of {his} teeth is that somebody "gets" it -- but not like Adriana La Cerva got it, please god!

I can't for the life of me comprehend what/why/where/when/who ... and wtf for?

The best I can offer is Luiselli's own explanation:

This book is the result of several collaborations. In January 2013, I was commissioned to write a work of fiction for the catalog of The Hunter and the Factory, an exhibition curated by Magalí Arriola and Juan Gaitán at Galería Jumex, a gallery located in the marginalized, wasteland-like neighborhood of Ecatepec outside Mexico City. The idea behind the exhibition, and my commission, was to reflect upon the bridges—or the lack thereof—between the featured artwork, the gallery, and the larger context of which the gallery formed part.

The Jumex Collection, one of the most important contemporary art collections in the world, is funded by Grupo Jumex—a juice factory. There is, naturally, a gap between the two worlds: gallery and factory, artists and workers, artwork and juice. How could I link the two distant but neighboring worlds, and could literature play a mediating role? I decided to write tangentially—even allegorically—about the art world, and to focus on the life of the factory. I also decided to write not so much about but for the factory workers, suggesting a procedure that seemed appropriate to this end.

In mid-nineteenth century Cuba, the strange métier of “tobacco reader” was invented. The idea is attributed to Nicolás Azcárate, a journalist and active abolitionist, who put it into practice in a cigar factory. In order to reduce the tedium of repetitive labor, a tobacco reader would read aloud to the other workers while they made the cigars. Emile Zola and Victor Hugo were among the favorites, though lofty volumes of Spanish history were also read. The practice spread to other Latin American countries but disappeared in the twentieth century. In Cuba, however, tobacco readers are still common.

Around the same time this practice emerged, the modern serial novel was also invented. In 1836, Balzac’s La Vieille Fille was published in France, and Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers was published in England. Distributed as affordable, serialized chapbooks, they reached an audience not traditionally accustomed to reading fiction. I realized I could combine these two literary devices that had once proven adequate in contexts not too different from the one I was facing. In order to pay tribute to and learn from these reading and publishing practices, I decided to write a novel in installments for the workers, who could then read it out loud in the factory.

Even her sequitur is a non sequitur, folks. Just because she was asked to write a short story does not necessarily follow that she should write an incomprehensible one. If I was a tobacco worker, or a juice labourer, I tell you, I'd have to be dropping me a whole lot of acid to just understand the meaning of this one; I think I'd rather just be working the line in silence than watching Proustian dwarves do the tango. (And for what it's worth, I've worked one or two tobacco fields in my life, so I know whereof I speak.)

There may not have been any acid being dropped while this book was being ... fabricated ... but everything else was being dropped right, left, and centre ... every literary device, every theory, every writer, every school of philosophy was used, at least once, to demonstrate that she is an erudite and gifted scholar, and she ain't no Tobacco Girl. She may be slumming, but she slums with style. Oh, it became so repetitive, and so annoying, to know that she knows Tacitus and Montaigne ... and Marilyn Monroe! ... along with Virginia Woolf, Voragine and Quintilian; and ... shall I continue?

Are you confused about Marilyn yet? Don't be. Luiselli will explain.

This is just cheap, trashy, promotional, flash in the pan kind of stuff. It really feels like an advertising stunt for her brand -- as the current parlance goes -- and that's worked really well because Luiselli is so gosh-darn-cute and pushes all the right buttons.

Lots of 5 star reviews that states otherwise, 'though. Quelle surprise

In other news ... she is apparently a gifted novelist, in another guise. I think I will wait awhile, 'though, before I attempt another of her novels. Perhaps she felt she wanted to test all the limits of absurdity in this one; set the novel on its ear, in a manner of speaking; make it as experimental as suited the occasion. I don't pretend to know anything real about this one -- only that I hated it and it started a migraine at 3.44 a.m. (I noted the time.) I need to join that Serenity Group of Neurotics Anonymous, perhaps, ... the one she refers to in the novel.


Profile Image for Murat Dural.
Author 14 books565 followers
January 8, 2018
Yılın ilk kitabına çevirilerini çok beğendiğim, birikimine çok güvendiğim Seda Ersavcı'nın önerisi ile başladım. Siren Yayınları tarafından basılan, Seda Ersavcı tarafından dilimize kazandırılan eser gerçekten içinde çok enteresan bir roman barındırıyor. Buna bir roman diyebilir miyiz? Hele o son sayfalara yaklaştıkça bizi yerden yere çarpan garip detaylar, alıntılar, fotoğraflar ve "sorulu & cevaplı" bölüm? Ustaca sokaklarda dolaştırıyor, mezatlara katılıyor ve aklımızı başımızdan alıp başka birine, uygun bir fiyata bırakıyor. Yere yığıyor bizi. Tekinsiz ancak bu derece kendine has kara mizahla, gerçekler bu kadar gerçeküstü şekilde anlatılabilir. Genç yazar Valeria Luiselli'nin yeni eserlerini bekliyorum. Ve son cümleler kitapta Marcel Proust'un "Kayıp Zamanların İzinde"den yapılan alıntısıyla gelsin; “Uyuyan kişi, saatlerin akışından, yılların ve dünyaların sıralanmasından oluşan bir halkayla çevrelenmiştir. Uyanırken, içgüdüsel olarak bunlara başvurup yeryüzünün hangi noktasında olduğunu, uykuya daldığından beri ne kadar zaman geçmiş olduğunu bir çırpıda okuyuverir; ne var ki sıralamalarda karışıklıklar, kopukluklar olması mümkündür.”
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,175 followers
November 15, 2022
This was written some 5 years before Luiselli's great Lost Children Archive, and you can tell this is an experimental book in many ways. In her afterword, she explains that this is the fruit of an interaction with a book club of Mexican workers. It may be better to know this before starting this book. Because the novel itself more or less resembles an installation, after the art works that became fashionable in the 20th century and that tried to bridge the gap between stories and matter. Luiselli seems to be trying something similar with a book that is full of metafictional references, but at the same time gives the impression that it is all just a game.

The novel is based on the curious life of Gustave Sanchez Sanchez, nicknamed Highway; a curious life indeed, at least in the early stories, where Gustave presents a grandiose monologue and tells the improbable story of his life. His crooked teeth play an important symbolic and material role in this. As I mentioned, Gustave is boastful, playful highbrow (with lots of winks at the greats of world literature and philosophy) and overall mostly roguish, both in the charming and repulsive sense (including a biopic by Luiselli herself).

At the end there is a somewhat predictable twist in which we see another narrator shine a completely different light on Gustave's life, which of course turns out to be much less grand. A concluding series of black-and-white photos (Sebald?) and a timeline try to give Sanchez's story a pseudo-objective appearance.

As mentioned, this seems to be a writing experiment that mainly wants to tell a metafictional story, in a postmodern sense; the many mottos preceding each chapter are almost all about the problematic relationship between sign and meaning; that says enough. At the same time, Luiselli does her best to puncture the highbrow content of her novel. For me it was amusing and intriguing in the beginning, but I’m afraid after a while the magic wore a bit off. (rating 2.5 stars)
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews767 followers
May 21, 2016

My Teeth

My teeth
Are younger than I am
Yet crumble away
Inside my head.

My eyes
(My age)
Grow dim.

My feet
No younger than I

Have taken me
A journey
To mountain tops
Through forest glades
Along seashores
Up stone steps
Over bridges
And no return

The hips grate
The knees creak
But the feet
Go on.

Profile Image for Antonomasia.
977 reviews1,220 followers
March 29, 2016
A novel's narrator introduces himself as 'charismatic': on the page, this would alert the reader to suspect a buffoon, and unreliability. From the voice of a professional audiobook reader, however, there is more doubt - the correlation between sound and assertion seems like a statement of believeable positive qualities, similar to what's found on a CV or job application. And when an author has created an opposite-sex narrator, does hearing the story from someone whose gender corresponds to the narrator's perhaps stop one considering how convincing the character is? I can't remember listening to a fiction audiobook before; I might have once or twice, years ago, probably not since the 90s, heard all episodes of a Radio 4 Book of the Week abridgement, and I think there were 'story tapes' when I was a little kid, but otherwise this was a new experience (of only 4 point something hours) that brought new considerations.

As a work of fiction created for an art gallery, I thought this would be made up of scores of fragments and oddments. Rather, it's a pretty straightforward story. Mexican auctioneer and former security guard Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez narrates his adventures in a mostly chronological, but also thematic way, followed by one chapter about his life narrated by the author of the book-within-a-book, whom Sánchez had asked to write about him, and finally a curious, verging on twee, not-entirely-chonological 'chronologic' authored by the translator mixes factual, fictional and tangentially related literary events. (That last chapter produced an unexpected tiny meta-event. Now, one would barely register seeing Amazon mentioned in a contemporary novel bought from Amazon - too commonplace - but the 'chronologic' included: "2011, Mexican author Daniel [didn't write down surname], uploaded Capro's essay to Scribd", Capro being an aforementioned artist and writer. Having quickly worked out with the help of the search engine that it was Kaprow not Capro - these things happen with audio - I located, although admittedly did not read, the document. Other charming lines in this final chapter mentioned the probable invention of the fortune cookie, by one Donald Lao, and that the teenage Luiselli once bought a book by [elderly Mexican author] Sergio Pitol assuming he was "a dead Eastern European or Russian writer".

The Story of My Teeth itself was disappointing: not much new, often reminiscent of Boom-era magic realism: lots of curious coincidences and potential portents; an egotistical hero whose relationships always fail because of others, not him; allusions to a rambling extended family who are also other authors. (From another late-twentieth century canon, Sánchez is inspired by the story of [the unnamed] Martin Amis paying for extensive dental work with writing, and Luiselli herself, in his now well-trodden metafictional tradition, makes a brief appearance as a minor character.) We hear a different take on the narrator's life at the end - which could be taken as a critique of that type of character/novel. For example, Sánchez says that his wife, once a dancer, put on a lot of weight and became abusive, whilst his writer friend, Voragine, says rather that she met someone else whilst he was abroad and Sánchez never really recovered from the loss - and perhaps it is telling re. macho Latin American society that the alternative view also comes from a male character. But it was too little too late to mix it up and I was a bit bored by then. The novel plays with the works of a literary movement I'm not so interested in - but fans of classic Latin magic realism, and there are many, might get more out of this.

It's disappointing, also, that the unusual circumstances of the book's genesis were not used more obviously. Quoting from one of last year's many Luiselli interviews: The novel came about when Luiselli was commissioned to contribute a work of fiction to an exhibition catalog for Galería Jumex, the art gallery sponsored by Mexican juice corporation Jumex. She became interested in exploring the relationships and juxtapositions between a contemporary art gallery and a factory, artists and workers, and art work and juice, and these concerns worked themselves into the novel through the serial, iterative process Luiselli developed to write it. Teeth was written in installments, each of which Luiselli shared with the Jumex workers for feedback. The workers conducted and recorded book club sessions on each installment and sent them back to Luiselli, which she used to inform the next installments she wrote. This very writerly novel came out of what could have been an amazing opportunity to write something demotic, and for an upper-middle class writer, who's lived a rarefied-sounding jet-setting life as the daughter of diplomats, to get honest draft-stage feedback about portrayal of working-class life in literary fiction. But she didn't really talk to people until afterwards: I actually used a pseudonym during the process. I was trying to avoid prejudice. But that was just me. I decided to write under a masculine pseudonym because I assumed that if this was a factory, all of the workers involved were going to be men. And of course, I was wrong! The majority of workers involved were women. Isn't this something you would know and think about from articles, from research, from asking people who set up the project, even if you moved in very high-toned circles where no-one had so much as worked in a factory to support themselves at university? The writer's afterword explains that anecdotes from the workers' discussion groups were used in the plot of The Story of My Teeth - but I think it would have been interesting for readers too if there had been a novel more reflective of working-class Mexican women's lives that had emerged from Luiselli having direct conversations with the staff. (Or if the workers had said they wanted to hear something different, something more escapist, that would have been important too - couldn't we have had an end chapter showing their feedback?) The narrator starts out as a security guard, but in the first chapter moves into a different world, like that of Latin American Boom lit, which was sometimes characterised as out of touch. The afterword mentions how, before radio, readers were employed in some factories to tell stories to workers, and that these were another inspiration for the project: I couldn't help but notice how the favoured authors mentioned - Zola, Victor Hugo, Dickens - often wrote about working-class life.

On the use of writers' names, repurposed as Sanchez's relatives and friends, Luiselli makes an interesting point in another interview:
Does Highway know the works of the great authors whose names he appropriates? “It doesn’t matter,” Luiselli tells me. “He doesn’t have to know. He probably doesn’t know. He might’ve just seen a library and taken the names randomly, copying off a bookshelf.”
Nor did the factory workers know the names, “which just goes to show how irrelevant those names are,” she says. “The literary community endows them with a weight and importance. There’s always solemnity around names and naming…a respectful awe in front of a name like Borges. The way I wanted to use these names was to put them at the level of the everyday.” Particularly interesting to Luiselli is how “different linguistic communities react to the name-dropping in the novel.” She mentions her uncle—an inspiration for Highway, in fact—who does not care about the contemporary literary world. He works in a market, selling and trading, always in possession of great stories about his objects. So when he encounters Highway’s name-dropping stories about his objects, Luiselli’s uncle doesn’t even think about the appropriation of famous names: “To him, they’re just strange little stories Highway tells.” On the other end of the spectrum, literary people “find [the name-dropping] irritating or think I’m paying homage (which is not the case) or building a literary map”—their own presumptions take over. But for Luiselli’s uncle—and for the factory workers—no such presumptions exist: they just enjoy the stories.
But what about interpolating cultural references suggested by the workers? (stereotypically, soap characters, favourite celebrities, or brands, but there would have been people with other interests too, who knew at least some of the writers referenced - I'd rather hear than guess).

Whilst I can see what she's getting at with the musings on what constitutes truth and value (regarding the tall stories Sanchez tells during certain auctions) they end up sounding sophomorically pretentious. Sentimental value and cult collectors' items are hardly obscure ideas. And by all means tell a story about a Del Boy type, that can be funny and sympathetic if done right, but the philosophising in the afterword, when added to the absence of comebacks from irate buyers ripped off in the story, is just off-key.

Three stars for the novel itself, which was okay. I kind of want to rate it lower as a project result, but who's to say that, with hindsight, Luiselli wouldn't have taken a different path?
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,304 followers
November 17, 2017
I’m the best auctioneer in the world, but no one knows it because I’m a discreet sort of man. My name is Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, though people call me Highway, I believe with affection. I can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums. I can interpret Chinese fortune cookies. I can stand an egg upright on a table, the way Christopher Columbus did in the famous anecdote. I know how to count to eight in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi. I can float on my back.

This is the story of my teeth, and my treatise on collectables and the variable value of objects.

I have previously read Valeria Luiselli's Faces in the Crowd where my review concluded: "I can see why some people love this book, indeed one can see the Luiselli could well go on to write a 5* book, but it ultimately didn't quite work for me."

Unfortunately Story of My Teeth isn’t that book, indeed it feels a step backwards.

Our narrator Gustavo, is as his own introduction sets-out, the self-claimed best auctioneer in the world. He collects largely worthless tat, but sells it via an auction technique of his own invention that relies on spinning a story:

My characteristic awareness of what is seemly, as well as my loyalty to and respect for both my teacher and our profession, prevent me from revealing the secrets of the art of auctioneering. But there is one thing I can explain about the Yushimito Method, which derives from a combination of classical rhetoric and the mathematical theory of eccentricity. According to Master Oklahoma, there are four types of auctions: circular, elliptical, parabolic, and hyperbolic. The strand that any auction follows is, in turn, determined by the relative value of the eccentricity (epsilon) of the auctioneer’s discourse; that is to say, the degree of deviation of its conic section from a given circumference (the object to be auctioned). The range of values is as follows:


With the passage of time, I developed and added another category to Master Oklahoma’s auctioning methods, although I didn’t put it into practice until many years later. This was the allegoric method, the eccentricity (epsilon) of which is infinite and does not depend on contingent or material variables. I am sure that my master would have approved.


Listening to Leroy Van Dyke sing “The Auctioneer”—which is also the central theme of my favorite film, What Am I Bid?—gave me the impetus I needed to fine-tune the conceptual details of my allegoric method. I’d realized that there was a gap in my profession—a gap that I had to fill. There was not a single auctioneer, adept though he might be in the frantic calling of numbers, or expert in the manipulation of the commercial and emotional value of the lots, who was able to say anything worth hearing about his objects, because he didn’t understand or wasn’t interested in them as such, only in their exchange value. I finally saw the meaning of the words Master Oklahoma had once spoken with an air of resigned sadness: “We auctioneers are mere hired heralds between the paradise and hell of supply and demand.” I, however, was going to reform the art of auctioneering. I would bury the word herald in the distant past of my profession with my new method. I wasn’t just a lowly seller of objects but, first and foremost, a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object. End of declaration.

Notably his collection of teeth which he claims belonged to various famous writers, past and present, which gives Luiselli the excuse for lots of literary in-jokes. The description of the owners of the teeth from Gustavo enables her to weave in brief pen portraits of very famous authors of the past (Borges, Woolf, GK Chesterton and, from the present-day, Vila-Matas), Gustavo frequently quotes his “relatives” (My Uncle Marcelo Sanchez-Proust once wrote in his diary.... followed by a Proustian quote) and the cast of characters is named after her peers: Cesar Aira, Sergio Pitol, Alejandro Zambra, Enrique (her real-life partner), Luiselli herself and Yuri Herrera.

Now Yuri Herrera is, of course, a male Mexican novelist, winner of the 2016 Best Translated Book Award for the wonderful
Signs Proceeding the End of the World, but in this novel a character of the same name features as a female policewoman. Some searching dug up a White Review piece where the interviewer queried this. Luiselli responded:

If a reader has no idea who Yuri Herrera is, to use your example, then nothing in the narrative tissue around that name is altered. Yuri Herrera is just a policewoman. If, on the contrary, the name bears a certain weight by virtue of the many associations it has for the reader, then both the name and the narrative around it suffer a kind of indent. The name weighs more heavily and the narrative around it takes a different shape, and also envelopes the name more tightly. But the mere fact that this effect depends completely on the reader’s pre-conceptions of a name and its associations says a lot about the ultimate value, content or meaning of names.

And this to me gets to the heart of the novel. One could think

a) aren't I well-read for recognising the name, and isn't the author clever for playing on that Yuri is a female name in other countries (e.g. Japan) to illustrate her key theme - that the perceived value of an object depends on the name it is given and the context. What a great book
b) really - that's it?

I was b). This novel was written as a commission to accompany an art exhibit at a major factory – which perhaps explains the rather insubstantial feel of the whole thing – and was apparently written in instalments with feedback from readings to the factory workers incorporated. It all smacks of a gimmick, the literary games are at a rather simple level and smack a little of too many in-jokes and nods to friends and peers and the artistic theme is hammered home with little subtlet.

The translation by Christina McSweeney is perhaps the one bright spot. It has, as with Sidewalks, been done in close collaboration with the author and as another iteration of the text, including a timeline of relevant literary milestones and Gustavo’s life inserted by McSweeney herself. But that isn’t sufficient to elevate the novel above the superficial.

Disappointing. 1.5 stars - I will round up to 2 as I tend to reserve 1 for the truly awful.
Profile Image for jeremy.
1,133 reviews279 followers
May 26, 2015
with faces in the crowd , it seemed rather evident that we'd only begun to see the depths of valeria luiselli's literary talents - given that the young mexican author is barely into her 30s. the story of my teeth (la historia de mis dientes), happily, is as imaginative and richly conceived a novel as her first.

if vila-matas, aira, and borges (all of whom figure into the tale) had collaborated together on a book about a storytelling auctioneer with an affection for literature, we might have seen something like the story of my teeth. stylistically unique, but squarely centered within the rich tradition of playful, allusive latin american fiction, luiselli's story evinces an enviable flair which belies her age. like its main character, gustavo sánchez sánchez (affectionately referred to as "highway" throughout), the story of my teeth is, at times, enigmatic, idiosyncratic, magnetizing, and delightfully charming.

as bolaño before her, luiselli works into her text a number of fellow authors (some yet untranslated into english) worth seeking out, creating a reading list for those so inclined - including alan pauls, margo glantz, yuri herrera, daniel saldaña paris, guillermo fadanelli, álvaro enrique (luiselli's husband), guadalupe nettel, and mario bellatin.
i've always thought that hell is the people you could one day become.
*translated from the spanish by christina macsweeney (faces in the crowd & sidewalks), whom also penned the book's seventh part ("the chronologic"), a timeline of the story, related details, and relevant moments in literary history.

**also worth noting is the genesis of the story of my teeth, commissioned as part of an art exhibition and written as a serial incorporating feedback from its intended audience (see luiselli's explanatory afterword).
Profile Image for Krista.
1,399 reviews591 followers
February 1, 2020
I’m the best auctioneer in the world, but no one knows it because I’m a discreet sort of man. My name is Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, though people call me Highway, I believe with affection. I can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums. I can interpret Chinese fortune cookies. I can stand an egg upright on a table, the way Christopher Columbus did in the famous anecdote. I know how to count to eight in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi. I can float on my back. This is the story of my teeth, and my treatise on collectibles and the variable value of objects.

The Story of My Teeth is divided into six sections (plus a series of photographs and a bonus “Chronologic” added by the book's translator) and I found the first of these sections (“The Story”) to be delightful: dripping with irony and absurdity, it was just off-kilter enough to pique my interest. But as the sections proceeded, the tone eventually wore on me, something began to drag the story down, and when I read the author's afterword about the book's creation (details to follow), I realised that the problem I had with The Story of My Teeth is that it's just too deliberate and self-aware; too manufactured to come across as relatably human. I picked this up not realising that I had read Valeria Luiselli before (Lost Children Archive) and both of these books suffer from the same sort of novel-as-art-installation-project that I can find alienating; Luiselli is making art, but it's not really to my taste.

I wasn’t just a lowly seller of objects but, first and foremost, a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object. End of declaration.

Set in a suburb of Mexico City, Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, known as “Highway”, worked as a guard, and then a counselor, at a juice factory until, at forty-two, he decided to learn auctioneering. Leaving his wife and baby son behind, Highway studied auctioneering in America and returned to become very successful, wealthy, and at the height of his powers, replaced his own shamefully uneven teeth with those said to have belonged to Marilyn Monroe. Asked to help a local parish by auctioning off some of his own collectibles, Highway demonstrates how it's stories that create value in items (asserting that the individual teeth he's selling belonged to such notables as Plato and Virginia Woolf), and when he sees his now grown son in attendance, Highway puts himself on the auction block. When his son then becomes vengeful, Highway hires a young novelist to write his dental autobiography. End of plot summary.

I need you to write my story, the story of my teeth. I tell it to you, you just write it. We sell millions, and I get my teeth fixed for good. Then, when I die, you write about that too. Because a man's story is never complete until he dies. End of that task.

Along with the six sections of straight narrative that the book is divided into, The Story of My Teeth includes a number of pages with fortune-cookie fortunes, some fairly inscrutable epigraphs, a section at the end with photographs of actual locations from the book, and endless referencing of other literary works (which are attributed to such writers as Miguel Sánchez Foucault, Marcelo Sánchez Proust, and Fredo Sánchez Dostoyevsky; a joke that grows old fast). Nothing about this reads like a familiar novel.

So, how this book came to be: Valeria Luiselli was commissioned to write a work of fiction for the catalogue of the Galería Jumex; an experimental art gallery located in a juice factory in the “marginalized, wasteland-like neighborhood of Ectepec”. Luiselli wrote the first section (which I really liked) and it was then read aloud to the workers at the juice factory, a recording was made of their reactions, and based on that feedback (and integrating the workers' personal anecdotes), Luiselli wrote the next section, and so on. In this way, she refers to this effort as a collaboration between everyone involved (“a reverse Duchampian procedure”), and as for the Chronologic section – which is a timeline of real and imagined events from the years of Highway's narrative – added entirely by her English translator, Christina MacSweeney, Luiselli writes that it is, “a map, an index, and a glossary for the book, which both destabilized the obsolete dictum of the translator's invisibility and suggests a new way of engaging with translation”. And all of this is apparent in the result: The Story of My Teeth was experimentally manufactured from disparate bits, intended for the catalogue of an art gallery that once hosted a room whose four walls were each entirely taken up by a video of a different bored clown doing little more than periodically sighing or blinking (an exhibit both described in the narrative and featured in one of the ensuing photographs). If you're intrigued by that exhibit, this book might be a perfect fit for you; like, both are art, but not for me.

When the bar was starting to close the owner would let Highway auction his stories. It was at Secret of Night that Highway finally put into practice the now full-fledged theory of his famous allegoric method, where it is not objects that are sold, but the stories that give them value and meaning.

And then I'm left wondering about this story that Luiselli tells us at the end of her book and relate it back to Highway's philosophy – is her novel “worth” more or less to me because I know about the commission and the collaboration and the deliberate experimentation? Is a pile of pitted and yellowed teeth worth more if they once belonged to a famous philosopher or actress? Is all value to be found in the stories we attach to items instead of reflecting something inherent in the items themselves? The whole thing could be a hoax that Luiselli is playing on the reader (a reverse reverse Duchampian procedure), but any way you look at it, it's using manipulation to provoke a response (which, of course, all fiction does), and I can't say that I enjoyed the experience overall.
Profile Image for Argos.
1,032 reviews312 followers
May 5, 2021
Gerçek olay ve kişilerden yararlanılarak yapılmış mizahi bir kurmaca roman. Romandaki kahramanların isimleri edebiyat dünyasından alınmış, tıpkı öykündüğü ve gönderme yaptığı çağdaşı E. Vila-Matas gibi. “Kayıp Çocuk Arşivi”nden sonra okumak şansızlık oldu, çok şey bekleyerek başlamıştım. Zeki ve yaratıcı bir yazardan vasat bir roman diyelim, 3.5’dan 4. Konusu ise tanıtım yazısında var.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
January 3, 2016
I first learned of this book on the 2016 Tournament of Books Longlist. When I found it at the library, the description made me laugh, in fact all the back says is,
"Some men have luck, some men have charisma. I've got both. I'm the best auction caller in the world, my name is Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, and this is the story of my teeth."
If that makes you laugh the rest of the book probably will too. Because of how the book was written, the entire thing feels rather meta and episodic. The author wrote it in a serial form with feedback from factory workers in Mexico, and I think it feels like that still. The translator added a little section in the back on her own. Within the story of Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez are other stories, and in many ways the major theme of the book is that of storytelling - the stories we tell others and how we present ourselves, the stories of others we tell and what we are trying to get across in doing so, and how we spin the stories that may or may not be true. And Sanchez tells stories, to sell items at an auction, to tell about his dreams, to tell about himself.

I don't think it would be for everyone. I felt I had to be patient while reading it, despite the short length, because it isn't quite linear. It is fun to stumble across the author's name (as a character) as well as a few other living Mexican authors - one I knew was Yuri Herrera. They are like little mini tributes inside the text.

Book 2 of 2016.
Profile Image for Konserve Ruhlar.
263 reviews154 followers
June 2, 2020
Dişlerimin Hikâyesi'nde yazar gerçek ve kurmacayı iç içe geçirip, dünya edebiyatından birçok yazarı kurgunun içine konuk etmiş. Sevdiğim yazarlar hakkında daha önce bilmediğim küçük detayları okumak çok keyifliydi. Ve onları o son derece önemli ve ciddi kalıplara sokan yaklaşımın tersine gündelik, insanı hallerinden detaylarla okumak çok güzeldi. Kitap alışık olmadığımız, ama okurken yadırgama faslını çabucak geçtiğimiz, âdeta hikâye tünelinde heyecanlı bir serüven sunuyor. Ağzı çok iyi laf yapan, ikna kabiliyeti yüksek tuhaf ama sevimli bir rehber, Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, namıdiğer Otoban'ın liderliğinde acayip bir yolculuğa çıkıyoruz. Gustavo'nun sonu gelmeyen amcaları, esrarengiz müzayedeleri, hayata muzip gözlerle bakışı, hep bir kaybeden olmas��na rağmen tekrar tekrar kalkıp yola devam etmesi, şans kurabiyelerinden çıkan küçük hayat dersleri, Marilyn'in dişleri ve akıl almaz ikna ediciliği unutamayacağım detaylar. Belleği şımartan, keyiflendiren bir kitap. Ne yalan söyleyeyim, yazma konusunda kafa yoranlar için de ilham verici bir kitap. Özellikle bu sıkıntılı karantina günlerinde beni gülümsetip farklı dünyalara sürükledi. Seda Ersavcı'nın incelikli ve duru çevirisininden de bahsetmesem olmaz. Ellerine sağlık diyorum:) Ha bir de Siren Kitap müthişsiniz. Sayenizde iyi edebiyata Türkçe ulaşıyoruz. Teşekkürler.
Profile Image for Joachim Stoop.
751 reviews513 followers
November 6, 2015
Crazy, strange, funny, clever, original, unique, fresh, delightfull.
Between gasps of laughter and having to read certain phrases and passages two times thinking:' No, did she really write this?!' A small book to reread and make people happy by giving it as a present.

"Everyone knows that horses have no compassion, I told Alan Pauls. If a horse sees you standing in front of it, crying, it just chews its hay and blinks. You start crying harder, your eyes overflowing with tears and pain, and the horse lifts its tail and lets out a long, silent fart. There is no way to stir its feelings. I once dreamed that a horse was persistently licking my face. But that doesn’t count, because it happened in a dream."

Like as said: Say WHAT :-)
Profile Image for A. Raca.
739 reviews152 followers
December 11, 2019
"Sular yukselince balıklar karıncaları yer. Sular çekilince karıncalar balıkları yer."


Yılın sonunda beni memnun eden bir okuma oldu. Çok farklıydı, Luiselli'yi çok sevdim mutlaka devam edeceğim.
Tavsiye ediyorum...
Profile Image for Aletheia.
287 reviews119 followers
August 15, 2021
Un trabajo súper original que apuntala mi admiración hacia Valeria Luiselli.

Lost Children Archive me sorprendió, me atrapó y me dejó sobrecogida. Continué con el mismo viaje pero cambiando de siglo y de género en Ahora me rindo y eso es todo y quise saber más de Luiselli y Enrigue. Con ese título y la preciosa portada que se marca Granta en la edición en inglés, no podía dejar de tener este libro en mi estantería.

La primera impresión es la de un libro fácil, ligero, con tinte humorístico; me engañó totalmente. Dentro de la novela hay mucho, mucho más. Tanto que estoy segura de que la mitad me ha pasado por encima. Metaliteratura, referencias dentro de las referencias, juegos con la estructura, con las citas, los personajes, digresiones metafísicas y sobre el lenguaje... un ejercicio literario que es en el fondo una reflexión sobre la importancia y el rol que el arte y la literatura tienen en la vida de la gente. De toda la gente.

Y la PUTA AMA de Luiselli publicó esto con 30 años. Ahí ya se me desparraman los esquemas mentales.

No es una novela de 5 estrellas porque como he dicho me faltan muchas referencias para entender bien todo, y porque la historia no es Desierto sonoro/Lost Children Archive. Pero no es que le falte cocción; es que no es una novela, es otra cosa: es un proyecto artístico, una colaboración, un experimento.

Me quedo con las ganas de echar una ojeada a la edición de Sexto Piso en castellano.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,709 reviews295 followers
January 12, 2016
You could call this book experimental, or unclassifiable; you could call it a novel or a collection of vignettes. It is also a work of art in the paper form, is delightful, humorous, and distinctly literary. Though barely a novel in the usual sense, it does tell a story, evoke a place, and is definitely about teeth.

I happen to like all of the above, though I've not had much attention on teeth in my lifetime. Come to think of it however, my mother had dentures from an early age and I do recall many scenes where she was either removing them or putting them back in. Perhaps this why I was drawn to the title.

Gustavo "Highway" Sanchez Sanchez is a denizen of the industrial suburbs of Mexico City. His particular skill is as an auctioneer, a unique one for he uses hyperbolic stories, improvised on the spot, to make the items being auctioned take on more value. Highway also has an entire house full of collectibles. He considers himself an expert in both fields.

In the way of a novel this book gives readers a patchy life story of this caricature of a character. But it is his stories, especially the ones he tells to sell off his own teeth at a crucial down and out moment, which give the book its tone.

Had I gone into it expecting a standard novel form, I would have been dismayed. Luckily I read the Afterword first, something I rarely do, so I was prepared. As I read, I was reminded of the early books of V S Naipaul. The community and its way of life are conjured into focus until I felt I was in the churches, the cafes, and the streets of Highway's part of town.

Probably not a book for most of the readers I know. Definitely a refreshing break from what I usually read.
Profile Image for Aoife Roberts.
2 reviews1 follower
March 27, 2015
Early in 2013 Valeria Luiselli was commissioned to write a work of fiction for the catalogue of ‘The Hunter and the Factory,’ an exhibition at the Jumex gallery, a prominent collection of contemporary art owned by the Grupo Jumex –a juice factory located in Ecatepec de Morelos, the industrial wasteland on the outskirts of Mexico city. The exhibit, and Luiselli’s commission, aimed to interrogate the links between the gallery and the factory, the artists and the workers, and the town itself as both a marginalized suburb and a center of culture and contemporary art. Inspired by the tobacco readers and serialized novels of the mid-nineteenth century, Luiselli chose to write not about but for the workers, creating a collaborative novel in installments that could be read aloud in the factory.

Luiselli’s text is a clever, multi-layered, encyclopedic novel rich with historical anecdotes and literary shout-outs. Like Highway’s Allegorics, it juxtaposes the academic with the suburban --Quintilian’s Lives of the Caesars with fiberglass dinosaurs-- to examine the value of an ordinary town.

The names of renowned authors, philosophers, and artists are used out of context to describe the average and mundane, without necessarily adding any intrinsic characteristic or background to a character. This serves as both a clever distancing technique, deconstructing ideas about status and meaning, but also makes for writing that is highly detailed and researched.

The writing is interesting not only in terms of content, but also form. It is essentially an archive and palimpsest of reframed narrative, block quotes, riddles, repartee, images, song lyrics, Latin, Russian, and Chinese all working together to construct the story of one man’s teeth. Despite this complexity, the pacing of the novel is contemporary, witty, and entertaining, without any hint of cynicism or ironic detachment.
“The Story of my Teeth” asks questions about art, ownership, and value in a manner that is elegant and novel: “how do art objects acquire value not only within the specialized market for art consumption, but also outside its more or less well-defined boundaries? How does distancing an object, or a name, from its context in a gallery, museum, or literary pantheon – a reverse Duchampian procedure—affect meaning and interpretation? How do discourse, narrative, and authorial signatures or names modify the way we perceive art works and literary texts?” The result of these shared concerns is an important and wonderful collective “novel-essay” about the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature.

Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,638 followers
January 19, 2016
Conceptually wonderful novel whose unique collaborative genesis and experimental spirit are commendable. I was absolutely in love through 30 pages - the humor, the risks - and was still quite into it until the memorable tooth auction sequence, but the increasingly free-associative surrealism, the over-reliance on citation, and the repeated jokes brought on a case of diminishing returns that made it hard to keep focus through the second half. I thought the last chapter (I'm excluding the entertaining index) was a mistake as well, but then again, I never like the look behind the curtain. A quick read, and I understand why people gravitate toward it, but sadly: a near-miss.
Profile Image for andreea. .
551 reviews545 followers
November 25, 2021
I hated every metafictional book I have ever had to read for university, but this one was damn impressive and heartwarming. Kudos to this beginning:
"I'm the best auctioneer in the world, but no one knows it because I’m a discreet sort of man. My name is Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, though people call me Highway, I believe with affection. I can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums. I can interpret Chinese fortune cookies. I can stand an egg upright on a table, the way Christopher Columbus did in the famous anecdote. I know how to count to eight in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi. I can float on my back."

a little fragment I liked:
Write what?
Whatever I commission you to do. First I need you to write my story, the story of my teeth. I tell it to you, you just write it. We sell millions, and I get my teeth fixed for good. Then, when I die, you write about that too. Because a man’s story is never complete until he dies. End of that task. [...] For the time being, you just write my dental autobiography. [...]
What are you smiling at?
Nothing. That it would be your biography, not your autobiography.
Ah! I see that you’re going to be a good writer too.
Why do you say that?
Because when you smile, you don’t show your teeth. Real writers never show their teeth. Charlatans, in contrast, flash that sinister crescent when they smile. Check it out. Find photos of all the writers you respect, and you’ll see that their teeth remain a permanently occult mystery. I believe the only exception is the Argentinian Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis.
The selfsame. Blind and Argentinian. But he doesn’t count because he was blind, so he probably couldn’t picture himself smiling—at least, not with the smile he had when he was blind, if you know what I mean.
Borges is my idol. Have you read him? asked young Voragine with childlike enthusiasm.
Not as much as I will in the future, I replied.
Profile Image for Lisa.
3,375 reviews429 followers
January 22, 2016
The Story of My Teeth is a most unusual book. It’s very clever and very witty – but… I can’t say that I really enjoyed reading it.

Valeria Luiselli is a rising star in Mexican literary circles and this novella is published by Granta. The blurbs praise her intellect and her mastery of prose. The book itself is a postmodern pastiche of styles which come together to explore the value of the things we buy and the way that celebrity attaches itself to consumer goods to inflate the price. All you need is a good story, and the narrator of this book, auctioneer Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, tells stories of increasing absurdity to achieve ridiculous prices for the goods he auctions…

To read the rest of my review please visit http://anzlitlovers.com/2015/05/13/th...
Profile Image for Simon Robs.
438 reviews95 followers
November 3, 2017
How could you not like this book? It has a little bit of everything touch and feel. Even the book itself, the artwork, the actual paper grade of substance. The story behind the story is just as delightful showing a collaborative spectacle of values collage period/place materiality. I'm reminded of a film admired "The Milagro Beanfield War" one of whose main character an elderly Mexican village faux sorcerer rings close to this book's protag. in thought/deed as he charms readers' imaginations like tooth fairies leaving shiny coins under pillowed sleep. It's all a wee magical romp that stays good on yer mind's palate. Second course but of course ! must read her other talked about book "Faces in the Crowd." Bravo, well done!
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