The Bitch


*Finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature*

In the jungle, dreams and nightmares coexist

Colombia’s Pacific coast, where everyday life entails warding off the brutal forces of nature. In this constant struggle, nothing is taken for granted. Damaris lives with her fisherman husband in a shack on a bluff overlooking the sea. Childless and at that age “when women dry up,” as her uncle puts it, she is eager to adopt an orphaned puppy. But this act may bring more than just affection into her home. The Bitch is written in a prose as terse as the villagers, with storms―both meteorological and emotional―lurking around each corner. Beauty and dread live side by side in this poignant exploration of the many meanings of motherhood and love.

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Publication date

August 4, 2020




Pilar Quintana

Pilar Quintana is a Colombian author. She debuted with Cosquillas en la lengua in 2003, and published Coleccionistas de polvos raros in 2007… Read more

Book Club Questions

  1. How long did it take you to become fully immersed in the story?
  2. Were you able to identify with Damaris?
  3. Did you ever move between feeling compassion for Damaris, and judging her? If so, did you have a final conclusion on this front, and what was it?
  4. Was the same true for Rogelio?
  5. Is the role of family in the village recognizable? If so, how, and if not, how does it differ from what you know?
  6. Do the relations of the villagers remind you of the way you relate with people in your neighborhood? If so, in which sense? If not, how do they differ?
  7. Which character in the book did you relate to the most/the least? Why?
  8. Does the novel have a specific message about the role of motherhood in a woman’s life? Did it bring you any new ideas about this?
  9. Would things have been very different if Damaris had had a child of her own?
  10. Whether you live in a city or not, does the relationship the villagers have with nature differ from yours? Did you have a hard time imagining the constant struggle with animals, the jungle, and the sea?
  11. Did you see the murder coming? Why? Were you horrified, or did you find the choice made sense somehow?
  12. What do you think of the ending? What do you imagine will happen next?
  13. To what extent is the dog’s behavior Damaris’s fault, or Rogelio’s for that matter? What could they have done differently?
  14. Do you have pets? If so, how do you think it changed the way you read this novel, if it changed it at all?
  15. After finishing the book, did you feel like reading more in the same style, or from the same author?

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Praise for The Bitch

The Bitch distills entire social, ethical, and cultural universes into a potent short novel, thanks to Pilar Quintana’s remarkable eye for detail and Lisa Dillman’s spare yet stirring translation. Set in a coastal town in Colombia, this novel is populated by complex characters outlined with minimalist strokes of absolute precision, and offers a startling, profound portrait of frustrated desire that will stay with the reader for a long time to come.”
National Book Award Judges Citation

“A searing psychological portrait of a troubled woman contending with her instinct to nurture is at the heart of Colombian writer Quintana’s slim, potent English-language debut…The brutal scenes unfold quickly, with lean, stinging prose. Quintana’s vivid novel about love, betrayal, and abandonment hits hard.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Quintana patiently explores [the] darkening mood…an intense story.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This acclaimed novella follows a woman raising a dog in an isolated community on the Pacific coast. Quintana’s depiction of the jungle is unforgettable, with its countless storms, insects and garbage washed up on the beach. This is a powerful, jolting tale about class, motherhood and rage.”

“Sardonic and pitch-black, The Bitch begins when childless Damaris brings an orphaned puppy home to the shack she shares with her fisherman husband…what ensues is written with such viciousness that it slices all the way down to the bone.”

“Engrossing…The Bitch is a subtle, moving novel about a struggle to overcome loneliness in an eerie place, among memorable people and animals.”
Foreword Reviews

The Bitch by Colombian writer Pilar Quintana is a devastating portrayal of the aching, unbearable weight that can be felt from guilt, violence, the drive to nurture and the need for human connection.”
Shelf Awareness

“Like the themes it explores, Quintana’s prose is stark and somewhat grim…Quintana’s book is an engrossing, engaging read that can be enjoyed over a few hours, and one of the best examples of Wendepunkt—an unexpected turn of events—I have come across in a very long time.”
Harvard Review Online

“Beautifully captures the eerie, wild setting near both the jungle and the ocean. The characters are unforgettable…This is a gorgeous heartbreak of a novel.”

“Pilar Quintana’s The Bitch is a taut, terse tale of guilt, shame, and frustrated desire. Quintana, selected as one of the illustrious Bogotá39 authors in 2007, has crafted a slim, yet powerful story sparse on the prose, yet heavy on the impact. With ample violence and brutality, The Bitch lays bare the precipitous emotional and existential toll compounding resentment and failed ambitions inevitably exact. Quintana foregoes literary flourish in favor of a direct, unequivocal style, making her new novel a tough, even tender take (despite the cruelty) on yearning, bitterness, regret, and grief.”

“The magic of this sparse novel is its ability to talk about many things, all of them important, while seemingly talking about something else entirely. What are those things? Violence, loneliness, resilience, cruelty. Quintana works wonders with her disillusioned, no-nonsense, powerful prose.”

The Bitch is a novel of true violence. Artist that she is, Pilar Quintana uncovers wounds we didn’t know we had, shows us their beauty, and then throws a handful of salt into them.”
YURI HERRERA, author of Signs Preceding the End of the World

“Pilar Quintana weaves human nature and the chaos of the universe together with extraordinary mastery. This is a novel full of mysteries about unfulfilled desire, guilt, and the places where love still exists.”
GABRIELA ALEMÁN, author of Poso Wells

“A raw yet beautiful story about maternity and the jungle.”

“The world of The Bitch is heartbreakingly true, it’s there, closer than we think, and yet remains invisible.”
El País

“Pilar Quintana has created a psychological tale that sweeps and drags us like the waves of the sea.”
El Tiempo

“To narrate the baroque jungle and American sea with such sobriety is a great triumph.”

The Bitch is far from simple in its brevity, communicating an inner universe that readers can easily identify with, by having experienced similar circumstances, reliving childhood, or relating to the portrayal of the landscape and those who inhabit it. This novel is a little gem that reminds me, in its intensity and fluidity, of The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, or The Pearl by Steinbeck.”
El Nuevo Día

“A profound and moving drama about life and destiny.”

The Bitch is an effective, accurate novel, with an ending that is honest as it is painful.”

“A tale narrated with skill and a steady hand.”
El Espectador

“Set in Colombia’s Pacific coast, The Bitch is a novel that holds the controlled and natural perfection in the narration until the very end.”
World Translations Review

“This is a book suffused with privation, in which the jungle is made everyday rather than exoticized, and it’s exponentially more powerful for that. Each of its 155 pages—and its unflinching ending—are focused on showing us how Damaris’s life is inexorably stripped down to its bare nerves; language isn’t in service of aesthetics here, but of a surgically precise excavation of a life at a point of extremis.”