Laia Jufresa (Mexico City, 1983) grew up in the cloud forest of Veracruz, Mexico, where water came from a well and electricity had to be stolen from the nearby highway. She spent her adolescence in Paris and became fluent in French thanks to a theater director who would brandish his cane from the last row of seats during rehearsals: “Prononcez bien, mademoiselle!” In 2001, Laia moved to Mexico City and discovered she didn’t know how to cross a street. She’s been writing fiction ever since.
Laia holds a BA in Arts from the Sorbonne University and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in illustration. In Mexico, she studied at Mario Bellatin’s Escuela Dinámica de Escritores (Dynamic School of Writers) and was awarded the two most important grants for young writers: Fundación para las Letras Mexicanas (The Foundation for Mexican Literature) and the FONCA (The Mexican National Fund for Culture and the Arts). Her work has been featured in anthologies such as Un nuevo modo, Antología de narrativa mexicana actual (A new way. Anthology of Mexican current narrative, UNAM, 2013), Muestra de literatura joven de México (Sample of young literature of Mexico, FLM, 2008) and Los mejores Poemas Mexicanos 2006 (The Best Mexican Poems 2006) —this last one always makes her smile. Her book El esquinista was awarded an honorable mention in the National Prize for Short Story San Luis Potosí 2012.
Laia also lived in Buenos Aires, where she undertook the dullest of endeavors —leather shoe making— and in Madison, Wisconsin where, at age 27, she finally learned how to ride a bicycle. She currently lives in Cologne, Germany. Laia is a contributor for ‘Letras Libres’ magazine and teaches online courses at the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana’s Creative Writing Program (PEC). Umami is her first novel.
“Reading Umami is like traveling through the minds of everyone we know, guided by a soft, reliable voice that tells us: stop, listen, observe.” – Valeria Luiselli, author of The Story of My Teeth, Granta
“The best Mexico City novels find a way to incarnate that city’s crazy protean energies, every sentence lifted from its psychic sidewalks and rooftops, and with a dashing charisma all their own. Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives did this, and so does Laia Jufresa’s extraordinary, utterly enchanting and brilliant, multi-everything Umami.” – Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name, Grove Press
“Ms Jufresa: Where the f*#! did you learn to tell a story so well?” – Álvaro Enrigue, author of Sudden Death, Riverhead Books
“A wonderfully surprising novel, powered by wit, exuberance and nostalgia.” – Chloe Aridjis, author of Book of Clouds, Grove Press
“Luminous Umami” – Le Monde
“Fans of contemporary literature are in for a treat.” – Press Association
“Grief, though, is neither defined by culture nor constrained by time. Yes, Jufresa could have written Umami the `normal´ way — a single perspective in chronological order with first person the whole way through — instead of this backwards telescope, alternating voices and switching perspectives between first and close third. That version of Umami would be a dark, bitter thing, like molasses in the coffee grounds. Instead, Jufresa and Hughes offer a version that is complex without weight, a saffron purée. Dynamic and delicate, Umami draws our attention without pretense.”– The Rumpus
“Umami‘s style is whimsical and inventive…[it]’s heart, charm and originality are a welcome addition to Mexican literature.” – Emerald Street
“Jufresa, an extremely talented young writer, deploys multiple narrators, giving each a chance to recount their personal histories, and the questions they’re still asking. Panoramic, affecting, and funny, these narratives entwine to weave a unique portrait of present-day Mexico. “ – The Millions
“Laia mixes Juan Rulfo with Rebecca Solnit; she takes the best from the modern American-style personal essay and perhaps even something light hearted from the British tradition as well.” – British Council
Literatura Random House (México, February 2015; Spain, May 2015; Colombia, 2016) / 240 pages
English sample available
Rights acquired by:
Literatura Random House (World Spanish except Chile)
Kindberg (Spanish, Chile only)
Buchet Chastel in a pre-empt (France)
Folio (French Paperback)
Oneworld (World English)
Audible (Audio World English)
Audible (Audio World Spanish)
Meridiaan Uitgevers in a pre-empt (The Netherlands)
Edizioni SUR (Italy)
Bence Kitap (Turkey)
Wydawnictwo W.A.B. (Poland)
Skjødt Forlag (Denmark)
Fabriikki Kustannus (Finland)
United Sky in auction (China)
Ana intends to plant a milpa (cornfield) in her backyard in downtown Mexico City, but the soil is polluted with lead, and her house —the entire residential complex where she lives— is plagued with absences. The main characters of this novel are not in it. They are dead or stunned or have fled. There’s her best friend’s mother, who left when both girls were nine leaving behind a letter the father refuses to share. There’s Ana’s own mother, in shock since her youngest daughter entered a lake and failed to come out. Then there’s the neighbor painter, who neither eats nor paints but invents colors with words. And the landlord, of course: Alfonso Semitiel, a widower and food anthropologist Ana greatly admires.
Alfonso conceived the complex —designing it after a diagram of the human tongue— and named each of the five houses after the five flavors perceived by our taste buds: Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Acid and Umami. Ana lives in Salty with her family. Alfonso lives in Umami with The Tots and a black machine through which he will attempt to communicate with his dead wife. The Tots are Kenny and G: two re-born dolls Alfonso unwillingly inherited from her.
Deep in mourning, the residents of the complex would like nothing better than to turn time around. Structured backwards, this novel allows them something of the sort. While Ana stirs the soil and spreads the seeds, her neighbors rummage in their pasts. Soon they will see that memory’s backyard is mined with questions: Who was my wife? Why did my mother leave? And, how could a girl who could swim drown?