By Carmen Boullosa
Translated from the Spanish by Peter Bush

A profound and moving coming-of-age novel that explores the end of one woman’s innocence in childhood.

Publication Date: August 2, 2016

Paperback: 9781941920282
Ebook: 9781941920213



Before is the story of a woman who returns to the landscape of her childhood to regain her innocence, knowing that in order for her to discover her identity, she must overcome the fear that held her captive as a little girl. This unique exploration of the path to womanhood and innocence lost won Mexico’s most prestigious literary prize. Introduction by award-winning author Phillip Lopate.

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Where were we before we got to this point? Didn’t they tell you? Who could tell you if you had nobody to ask. And do you yourself remember? How could you remember? Particularly as you’re not here… And if I keep on? Well, if I keep on perhaps you’ll show up.
How would I like you to be? I’d like you to be anyhow! Just warm, not necessarily hot, a piece of dough, to touch, to feel… I’d be happy to feel something, feel it gently, to caress without scratching or hurting and with nothing nothing nothing at all left on my hands…nothing at all… not a single mark…
But nobody’s with me. Nobody, apart from my fear, my panic, my terror… Fear of whom? There’s no way I can be afraid! I’ve shown in a thousand ways how harmless I am, like a duck on the lakeside waiting for children to throw me a scrap of food or leave something in the paper they carelessly leave behind… But they’re disgusted by me, disgusted, disgusted is the word. I dirtied their ‘day out in the country’, dirtied their lakeside breakfast, turned their breakfast haven into a sludgy mess… kids, I’m like you, leave something for me, someone wait for me, stay with me, just for a second, come on, kids!
They leave. Their Dad will take them straight to school now. They didn’t have that disappointed look of wanting to breakfast here…
But I’ll start at the beginning. Sure, I was like those children, I was one of those awkward children and here I am cut off from their world forever. Children! I was like you once!
I really must overcome my fear and start telling my story.


One of Bookriot‘s “7 Small Press Books to Read in August” 2016
One of Literary Hub‘s “13 Translated Books by Women You Should Read”

“This 1989 novel from one of Mexico’s most prolific authors won the Xavier Villarutia Prize, the country’s most prestigious literary award. In its first English translation, Before offers a perfect introduction to Boullosa’s fluid and powerful writing… Beneath the events Boullosa presents in often comic terms – playing childhood games with her half-sisters, visits to her grandmother, the shock of coming into womanhood at the time of her mother’s death, her savage dreams – is a powerfully rendered sense of loss and separation.” — Jane Ciabattari, BBC Culture

“However spectral, this fictive double of the author produces a vividly expressionist argument that the transformations of adolescence amount to the literal death of the child. She also serves up a finely observed account of how a person—specifically, a high-strung, privileged, and impatient Catholic girl like the author herself—becomes a writer.” — Will Heinrich, BOMB Magazine


“Told by an unnamed, extremely sensitive, and very frightened girl, this early novel by one of Mexico’s premier writers rivals Clarice Lispector’s work for sheer hypnotic power.” — Staff Pick at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC

“Like Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Carmen Boullosa’s peculiarly spooky novella uses formal experimentation and an uncompromising emotional honesty to explore the formation of a young woman’s identity. Only a writer as fearless as Boullosa could so perfectly capture the unease of youth with such Angela Carter-like weirdness.” — Gary Perry, staff pick at Foyle’s in London

“Carmen Boullosa’s early novel Before meets the everyday with bewilderment. In this dream world of childhood, realism is nothing short of an act of magic; the supernatural suffuses the ordinary. The official narratives—of childhood and womanhood, of heresy, sacrifice and salvation — structure not just how we understand and remember our experiences, but how we talk about and write our histories.” — Anna Zalokostas, Music & Literature

“Boullosa’s novel is playfully subversive rather than derivative, and converses with her precursors while forging a decidedly feminine?—?and feminist?—?path for the treatment of growing up (or failing at it).” — Charlotte Whittle, Electric Literature

Before is a small gem that brings to mind two other gems of Mexican literature: Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo and Carlos Fuentes’s Aura. This comparison is not overstated. Like its predecessors, death is a central theme in Boullosa’s novella. Before differs, however, in the playful, sometimes irreverent way in which the protagonist confronts this macabre topos.” — George Henson, World Literature Today

“A ferociously intimate evisceration of her own formative personal history as well as an exploration of everything that is lost with childhood and of the places of silence that precede speaking.” — Aaron Bady, Guernica

“A luminous writer . . . Boullosa is a masterful spinner of the fantastic.” — Miami Herald

“…this first novel is raw and unadorned, like a vein opened up on the page.” — Aaron Bady, Lit Hub

“Mexico’s best woman writer.” — Roberto Bolaño

“Carmen Boullosa writes with a heart-stopping command of language.” — Alma Guillermoprieto

“A story and men armed by necessity and by caprice, a tale of indomitable women, a chronicle of cowboys and Indians, of African-Americans and immigrants from other parts, of captives and their keepers, of slavers and rebels.” — La Journada on TEXAS

“I don’t think there’s a writer with more variety in themes and focuses in his or her writing. . . . The style and range of Carmen Boullosa is unique for its versatility and its enormous courage.”— Juan Villoro

” . . . a cross between W. G. Sebald and Gabriel García Márquez.”— El País

“The world of Carmen Boullosa is revealed as a sui generis form weathering the storms of history.” — Letras Libres

“Carmen Boullosa is, in my opinion, a true master.” — Alvaro Mutis, author of The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll