Wit & wisdom punctuate Daniel Sada’s novel of love’s charade.

One Out of Two by Daniel Sada

Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, $16.00 paperback (112 pages), November 3, 2015. Translator: Katherine Silver. Book Design: Rachel Holscher.

Guest Review by Lanie Tankard

“…let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.”—William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

“I think you have all drunk of Circe’s cup….”—William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

Sada-One out of Two

Mexico’s acclaimed writer Daniel Sada, who died in 2011, wrote nine novels in Spanish. One Out of Two is the second to be translated to English, both by Katherine Silver. William Shakespeare would have applauded this story, which can be viewed as a marvelous mashup of two plays: The Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing.

The Gamal sisters, twin seamstresses, enjoy confusing people about their identities. Their small world in Ocampo, Chihuahua (Mexico), is upended one day when a suitor named Oscar Segura enters the picture—but exactly which sister is he courting, Gloria or Constitución? Using this mixed-up charade as a springboard, Sada spins a yarn that weaves in zingers about love, lust, sex, identity, profession, gender roles, weddings, marriages, funerals, ancestors, truth, deception, forgetting, and the passage of time. Ingenious metaphors explore broader themes: individualism, collectivism, symbiosis, codes of honor, and values. The storyteller’s clear distinctive voice spinning this comical tale is compelling. One can practically visualize the narrator’s arms waving dramatically, eyes rolling in exasperation and widening in anticipation, while the plot advances.

One method Sada used involves unique punctuation such as repeated colons—often two, three, or four in the same sentence—to give the narrator’s delivery an attitude. Sada also applied quite liberally the one-em dash for emphasis and ellipses for pauses. Toying with these marks allows a skilled author to develop an almost audible speech pattern by pushing readers to hear words on the page differently. In a similar vein, Norwegian writer Per Petterson totally shunned question marks in his recent novel I Refuse (reviewed), constructing a particular voice that slowly ratcheted up the tension, impelling readers to listen.

Daniel Sada

[The late Daniel Sada.]

Daniel Sada’s One Out of Two raconteur steps onstage intermittently, pointing to the storyline: “Herein evolves the drama, the underbelly of the plot” or “Now let’s tell their tale.” The pundit gradually assumes a character role apart from the fiction, reminding audience members they’re being told a story, which creates a direct relationship between reader and author via narrator as in a play integrating Bertolt Brecht techniques. The commentator becomes essential to the performance yet remains outside the action. How this farce finally plays out caps off a perceptively clever comedy drama.

Originally published in Spanish as Una de dos in 1994, the work became a 2002 movie directed by the late Marcel Sisniega Campbell, with whom Sada collaborated on the screenplay. Sada’s honors included the 2008 Premio Herralde de Novela from Barcelona publisher Editorial Anagrama. Hours before he died, Sada received the National Prize for Arts and Sciences in Literature from the Government of Mexico.

Seven more novels and a multitude of short stories and poems, all in Spanish, still await translation. There’s a definite treasure trove pending in the literature of Daniel Sada.

Lanie Tankard, VA

Lanie Tankard is a freelance writer and editor in Austin, Texas. She is a former production editor of Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, and has also been an editorial writer for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.



  • Richard says:

    Lanie, You read such interesting books. What intrigues me here is his use of punctuation—which based on your review reminds me of a favorite novel, Coetzee’s Disgrace—and his use of narrative persona. Coetzee uses a lot of colons, too. The colon gets left on the floor by many writers, and often can replace the em dash. But don’t you think that’s harder than it looks because colons seem to/can stop the action?

    • LanieTankard says:

      Richard, I do enjoy finding fiction that pushes the boundaries. I can’t remember a lot about Coetzee’s Disgrace, but I really liked Waiting for the Barbarians. Yes, colons do inflict a stop-action effect on an author’s voice. In regard to punctuation of any sort in fiction, perhaps it comes down to learning the proper use of marks to begin with before attempting to experiment—which might elevate literary punctuation to an art, such as Impressionism or Cubism in painting or jazz in music.

      What do you suppose Dickens was trying to accomplish with this one?

      “Marley was dead: to begin with.”


  • Dear Lanie and Richard, Happy New Year! You’ve started the new year off right, with a challenging and intriguing read. I hope I will be able to find this one on my library website(s), as I always have a soft spot for re-doings of Shakespearean plots, or themes related to Shakespearean ones. Just out of curiosity, what did Sada die of, or do you know? He looks youngish-middle-age in the photo.

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