Writers & Company

Valeria Luiselli On The Story Of My Teeth

The rising literary star talks about language, identity and cycling as the best way to get around.
Valeria Luiselli's much anticipated new novel is The Story of My Teeth. (Alfredo Pelcastre/Coffee House Press)
Listen to the full episode52:44

Young writer Valeria Luiselli is an exciting new voice in literature. The Story of My Teeth is an elegant, witty, exhilarating romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City. The book tells the tale of Highway, a late-in-life world traveller, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer. His most precious possessions are the teeth of the "notorious infamous" like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf.

Valeria Luiselli was born Mexico City in 1983 and grew up in South Africa. Her novel, Faces in the Crowd, and essay collection, Sidewalks, have been translated into many languages. Her writing has appeared in publications including the New York Times, The New Yorker and McSweeney's

ON HOW LANGUAGE AFFECTS IDENTITY

"I write sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, that is shifting my identity of course.  My daughter talks to me in English, a very beautiful and peculiar English from Harlem.  Identity is something that is always shifting, happily something that is not necessarily there for ever."

ON WHY CYCLING IS THE BEST WAY TO SEE THE WORLD 

"I really prefer cycling to any other means of transport, I just think that it is the perfect speed. I think that when I cycle I am moving at the velocity that my body should be moving, I breathe the right way, I glance the right way, there's an equilibrium in me."

ON HOW BOOKS CAN HELP YOU TO GET TO KNOW A PLACE 

"Books, literature add layers to spaces, when you don't know a place and you read a book about it, there's a borrowed memory of the place. It's as if you get a kind of transplant. You all of a sudden have a memory of a place, a memory that is not yours but that you've incorporated through reading."

Valeria Luiselli's comments have been edited and condensed.

M​usic to close the interview: "Malhaya​" performed by Grupo Mono Blanco and Stone Lips, composed by Grupo Mono Blanco, from the album El Mundo se va a Acabar.