House of Anansi Press, 2022
Reviewed by Barbara Burgardt
No Stars in the Sky is a breathtaking collection of 19 short stories that connect women facing life-altering moments of loneliness, grief, and loss.
Though the stories are set in different locales, they are united by the “strong but damaged female characters in crisis, tormented by personal conflicts and oppressive regimes that treat the female body like a trophy of war.” Bátiz raises awareness of the plight of migrant children along the Mexico–U.S. border, the tragedy of the disappeared in Mexico and Argentina, and “silent tragedies too often ignored.”
In “The Raincoat,” a Latin-American woman rides the streetcars of Toronto ranting about chinches (bedbugs), the rush hour, and her yellow raincoat. It speaks to the homesickness many immigrants feel, and although locals may be oblivious or feel helpless or uncomfortable in the face of such loneliness, it is nonetheless a common affliction for new citizens.
Bátiz writes: “When you’re homesick it’s not only about the food, it’s about the sunshine, the familiar noise on the streets. It’s about the shared experience. Here, you wake up, get yourself ready for work, hop on public transit to get to work, do what you’re supposed to do for seven hours and then go back home, and you can count your blessings if someone at work wants to grab lunch with you. And to everyone else, you’re invisible.”
The feeling of being invisible is palpable, not only for the immigrants in Bátiz’s stories (and outside of them), but also for the women who are taken advantage of in instances of domestic violence, rape, suicide, racism, and injustice of all stripes.
In the story “Broken,” Adela Ramírez—a single mother searching for her daughter, Alma—says, “In this country [USA], where brave journalists like Sylvia are murdered every day, where women’s lives mean nothing, where mothers’ pain means nothing, where she herself, and Alma, are nobodies in an ocean of dead and missing and grieving nobodies, hope is not the last thing to die, but the first.”
These incredibly moving short stories are potentially triggering—although the narratives in No Stars in the Sky are fictional, they are based on real events that happen all around us. Still, Bátiz doesn’t apologize for making you feel what her characters do. She even notes that it could be wiser for a reader to sit this book out if they might react to the five trigger warnings she signals: “It would have been dishonest of me to sugar-coat certain situations to make them more palatable.”
In “Apartment 91B,” a mother experiences both anger and acceptance as a woman who falls and gets back up despite heartbreaking circumstances. The title for this collection comes from the line: “Tonight, there are no stars in the sky. Other than the wind blowing, there is no sound, and for that I am thankful.”
Martha Bátiz is an award-winning writer, professor, and translator and the first Mexican ever to be awarded an “accésit” (secondary award) in the International Short Story Contest for “Miguel de Unamuno.” Her work is translated into many languages, and in 2014 she was named one of the Top Ten Most Successful Mexicans in Canada by Latinos Magazine, and one of the Ten Most Influential Hispanic Canadians in 2015 by the Hispanic-Canadian Congress and Business Alliance. Bátiz is also the founder and chief instructor of the Creative Writing in Spanish program (unique in Canada) for the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.