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Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and Percival Everett's Telephone has been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Nervous System

A Novel
Lina Meruane; Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Ella is an astrophysicist struggling with her doctoral thesis in the “country of the present” but she is from the “country of the past,” a place burdened in her memory by both personal and political tragedies. Her partner, El, is a forensic scientist who analyzes the bones of victims of state violence and is recovering from an explosion at a work site that almost killed him. Consumed by writer’s block, Ella finds herself wishing that she would become ill, which would provide time for writing and perhaps an excuse for her lack of progress. Then she begins to experience mysterious symptoms that doctors find undiagnosable.

As Ella’s anxiety grows, the past begins to exert a strong gravitational pull, and other members of her family come into focus: the widowed Father, the Stepmother, the Twins, and the Firstborn. Each of them has their own experience of illness and violence, and eventually the systems that both hold them together and atomize them are exposed.

In this extraordinary clinical biography of a family, full of affection and resentment, dark humor and buried secrets, illness describes the traumas that can be visited not just upon the body, but on families and on the history of the countries—present and past—that we live in.

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An electrifying novel about illness, displacement, and what holds us together, by the author of Seeing Red

About the Author

Lina  Meruane
Credit: Lorena Palavecino
Lina Meruane is the award-winning Chilean author of Nervous System and Seeing Red. She has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and was a DAAD Writer in Residence in Berlin. She teaches at New York University.
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Megan McDowell has translated many of the most important Latin American writers working today, including Samanta Schweblin and Alejandro Zambra. Her translations have won the English PEN award and the Premio Valle-Inclán, and been nominated three times for the International Booker Prize. Her short story translations have been featured in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Tin House, McSweeney’s, and Granta, among others. She is the recipient of a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Santiago, Chile.
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Upcoming Events

Nona Fernandéz and Lina Meruane appearing virtually at The Center for Fiction


Nona Fernández and Lina Meruane in conversation virtually at the Center for Fiction. Interpreted by Natasha Wimmer.


  • “Razor-sharp. . . . On a sentence level [Nervous System is] unimpeachable.”Publishers Weekly
  • “Nervous System is a novel both fanciful and visceral, pairing the study of the cosmos with medical mysteries and wounds on earth.”Shelf Awareness
  • “A postmodern meditation on how illness and loss forge connections . . . A complex, melancholy tale of a woman on the brink.”Kirkus Reviews
  • “This is an absolutely fantastic novel. From black holes to mass graves, undiagnosable diseases and (perhaps most terrifying of all) a PhD that hasn’t been written, Nervous System is frank, brave, and unsparing. The precision of Meruane’s sentences will cut through you like a scalpel.”—Julianne Pachico
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