One of the first things Marina discovered was this: their shoes were all the same. Black, round-toed shoes. All of their faces too dark, too tanned and hardened by the sun. All of their dresses too bright.

Sunlight and air filtered through the girl’s dresses and their hands, and they held onto their toys too tight. They’d been stripped of something childlike and yet their faces were childlike, it was as if their bodies had developed too early, before their faces, or their faces too late, a step behind their bodies.

Maybe that’s why it was so hard to tell them apart.’

Such Small Hands grabs the reader’s attention from the very beginning. A brutal car crash claims the lives of two parents and this devastating event comes to define a young girl’s very existence. From this moment onward Marina’s scars, both physical and emotional, become who she is and her life changes dramatically.

Abandoned in an orphanage, Marina finds that the other girls come to both love and loathe her marked difference. The orphanage girls seem to exist as a single organism such is their institutionalisation. They act alike and look alike and no matter what she does Marina always seems to exist outside of this arrangement. Change upsets this order and so Marina’s shiny hair and her tales of life on the outside unsettle them.

I had mixed feelings while reading this book. While the atmosphere was undeniably creepy and tense, I found it hard to fully connect with the prose. I felt that this was in part due to the fact that it was translated fiction. I did however like the story’s unique style and childlike perspective throughout. There are no adult characters of note in this novel.

At only 94 pages Such Small Hands reads more like a short story than a novel. Despite this short space, Barba’s immersive style creates an spine-chilling world that will stay with you long after. Children are shaped by the world around them and the world can sometimes be seen as a cruel place. Barba reminds us that children can be as cruel and macabre as adults and this certainly is the case when it comes to his cold, detached orphans.

Afterthoughts