Three men go out fishing in rural Argentina, returning to a favourite spot on the river despite their memories of a terrible accident there years earlier. Can another tragedy be avoided?

Whether you’re new to Not a River or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide, featuring insights from critics, our judges and the book’s author and translator, as well as discussion points and suggestions for further reading. 

Written by Emily Facoory

Publication date and time: Published


Three men go out fishing, returning to a favourite spot on a river in Argentina, despite their memories of a terrible accident there years earlier. As a long, sultry day passes, they drink and cook and talk and dance, and try to overcome the ghosts of their past. But they are outsiders, and this intimate, peculiar moment also puts them at odds with the inhabitants of this watery universe, both human and otherwise. The forest presses close, and violence seems inevitable, but can another tragedy be avoided?

The main characters


A childhood friend of El Negro and Eusebio, he lost a finger while cleaning his firearm not long after Eusebio died. 

El Negro

Close to his childhood friends, El Negro considered Enero’s mother Delia – and his five sisters – as the closest things to a mother he’d ever known after losing his own mother at birth.


Tilo is the teenage son of Eusebio, Enero and El Negro’s recently deceased friend. He joins the two older men on a fishing trip to the Paraná River. 

About the author

Selva Almada is considered one of the most powerful voices of contemporary Argentinian and Latin American literature and one of the most influential feminist intellectuals of the region. Compared to Carson McCullers, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Sara Gallardo and Juan Carlos Onetti, Almada has published several novels, a book of short stories and a book of journalistic fiction. She has also published a film diary, written on the set of Lucrecia Martel’s film Zama, based on Antonio di Benedetto’s novel. She has been a finalist for the Medifé Prize, the Rodolfo Walsh Award and of the Tigre Juan Award. Her work has been translated into French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Swedish and Turkish. Not a River (shortlisted for the Vargas Llosa Prize for Novels) is her fourth book to appear in English after The Wind that Lays Waste (Winner of the EIBF First Book Award 2019), Dead Girls (2020), and Brickmakers (2021).

Portrait of author Selva Almada

About the translator

Annie McDermott is the translator of a dozen books from Spanish and Portuguese into English. McDermott has translated such writers as Mario Levrero, Selva Almada, Fernanda Trías and Lídia Jorge. In 2022, she was awarded the Premio Valle Inclán for her translation of Joseph Zárate’s Wars of the Interior.

Portrait of translator Annie McDermott.

What the critics said

Publishers Weekly

‘The novel becomes more ethereal and ghostlike in the second half, and Almada particularly excels at depicting her characters’ fragility and vulnerability: “Ties here are made of cobwebs…. One little breeze and they break,” one character says. Like a dream, this otherworldly tale lingers in the reader’s mind.’

El periódico

‘This is a narrative of great depth in which the settings (the river, fishing, the island) emerge from a very powerful poetic narration that keeps quiet more than it says aloud, that omits more than it recounts, a dreamlike voice marked by an infinite and familiar wound anchored in a dialectic between dreams and an indestructible future.’

Chicago Review of Books

‘Almada is forceful in her depictions of sex, violence, and rage. I feel her prose in my body: a punch in the gut, the sharpness of glass. McDermott’s translation captures the bite of Almada’s sentences, which render both tenderness and violence with devastating clarity.’

Morning Star

‘What makes the book compelling is how the author explores issues of domestic violence, state complicity, machismo and family negligence, along with class and social inequalities, in a non-sentimental prose which is all the more effective as result.’


‘Curious, dreamlike patterns emerge in the presentation of settings and motifs—the river itself, night clubs, accidental death, toxic masculinity, nature’s indifferent potency—hauntingly connecting disparate characters and times. With the exception of a few more ornate flourishes, the writing, especially the dialogue, is lean and impactful, and often reflects a sense of morbid inevitability.’

What the International Booker Prize judges said:

Not A River moves like water, in currents of dream and overlaps of time which shape the stories and memories of Enero and El Negro, the adult friends and default mentors of young Tilo, whom they have brought with them on a fishing trip along the Paraná River. The island where they set up camp pulses with its own desires and angers, tensions equal to if not exceeding those of the men who have come together on its shores. Alongside the story of these grief-marred men, Almada wages small and tender resistances through the women of the town – and what luck to root for or mourn them – the mother whose ever-growing fires engulf us, her two flirtatious, youth-glowed daughters, and the almost-mythical manta ray who becomes one of the guardians and ghosts of this throbbing, feverish novel.’

How would you summarise this book in a sentence to encourage readers to pick it up? 

A story of three friends on a fishing trip and a river in Argentina. This deceptively simple short novel contains a deep sense of foreboding and memories of past traumas, turning a seemingly bucolic trip into a haunted story. 

Is there something unique about this book, something that you haven’t encountered in fiction before? 

The economy and clarity of the writing hold you from the very beginning. The abrupt transitions – a single sentence undoing the calm progression of life – is a great narrative skill; a written form somehow encompassing the shattered form of life it describes.  

What do you think it is about this book that readers will not only admire, but really love? 

The growing antagonism of the locals towards the three fishermen, who are seen as intruding into their space, keep us in suspense for each page. We know something bad will happen, but cannot anticipate it, until it does. 

Can you tell us about any particular characters that readers might connect with, and why? 

The characters in the book are all wonderful. But what is really remarkable is the clarity and economy of language. The author feels like a secure guide, taking us by the hand through dangerous terrain.

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

What the author said

‘The characters in my novel, men and women who live on what the river can provide, are a reflection of what the neo-liberalism of the 1990s has done to Argentina: impoverishing it, condemning a significant part of its citizens to poverty and marginalization. That same ferocious process of devastating regional economies, of hollowing-out the public sector, of plundering the natural wealth, is today being rebooted and reasserted by La Libertad Avanza.  

‘I finished writing this novel four years ago, when it was unthinkable that Argentina could be governed again by the right wing; much less by one like this. I wanted to write this story because it is also part of my own story: Not a River is inspired by the territory where I was born and raised, by the people who inhabit that land and who, in many cases, were marginalized by neoliberal policies that condemn the majority to poverty and to an absence of minimum rights such as the right to work, to education and to health. This is my humble tribute to my land: to its rivers, its animals, its trees and the people who live in it.’

Read the full interview here.

What the translator said

‘For Not a River, I read a whole stack of fishing-related books, from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to The River Why, David James Duncan’s genuinely wonderful account of a life spent trout-fishing in Oregon, and I also spent hours trawling (no pun intended) through fishing forums and YouTube videos. But the fishing side of things was only part of it – I also read everything I could think of that would help with the oral language that’s used in the novel, and for the spare, stripped-back way the characters and narrator speak. This included William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Bryan Washington and Sophie Mackintosh, and most of all Cormac McCarthy, without whose books I might never have found Selva Almada’s English voice.’

Read the full interview here.

What the Booker Prize Book Club said

Gwilym Eades:

‘It evokes a time and a place with incredible precision, and also with metaphors that diffuse its atmospheres into your brain. You feel like you are there with the warring family members, with brothers and sisters living hard on this summer island, a respite from life and a life-changing story at the same time. You feel the hot summer air at the dance, hear the chatter and the banter in the background even as you listen in on conversations, on what’s going on all around.  I felt like I could even hear the insects singing in the hot dusty leaves as I read this book.  It is a tale of revenge and love that is so perfectly incised you won’t forget it.  I’ll read more by this author!’

Questions and discussion points

Almada uses short sentences that take on a more lyrical construction in Not a River. The translator, Annie McDermott says in her Translator’s Note at the end of the book that Almada’s work ‘is defined by her ability to capture the patterns and rhythms of everyday speech and turn them into spare, perfectly-weighted poetry.’ To what extent do you agree with her interpretation?

The topic of masculinity is included in numerous ways within Not a River – for example, in the ego-driven behaviours that arise and the way the main character process their grief. With Almada writing not from a male experience, would you say she relays these experiences in a more effective way because she has an objective point of view?

Annie McDermott said in her Translator’s Note that, ‘the line breaks and lack of chapter divisions make the text itself river-shaped, its short sentences lapping at the silence like waves on the shore.’ Do you think that the way the story is structured represents a flowing river? What are some examples that show this?

There are many examples in the book of how the past and present are not presented in chronological order. Do you think the book’s lack of clear signposting or straightforward chronology makes it harder for the reader to follow along? Or does it have a more powerful impact because of its unusual structure?

It has been noted that Not a River is the final book in the thematically-connected trilogy by Almada, including two other books, The Wind That Lays Waste and Brickmakers. If you’ve read Almada’s previous works, how have you noticed the connections between these three novels? If you haven’t read them, how does the fact that you are coming to the third part of a trilogy first impact your reading of it?

After Enero left the police academy, he was posted to a little town in the north of the province. In the six months he was there, he didn’t see his family or friends once. Something bothered him in both his new and his old life, and he felt like he didn’t fit in. Why do you think Enero felt this way and what made him not want to visit home while he was away?

Siomara says that ‘women with sons are never ready for tragedy.’ How do the differing experiences of men and women relate to this quote and why do you think Siomara believes this to be true?

Both Enero and Mariela have prophetic dreams that are tied to future events. Enero’s Godfather, Gutierrez who is the town healer says, ‘Sometimes dreams are echoes of the future.’ How does this set up future events and what’s to come? 

Why do you think that El Negro, Enero and Tilo can see Lucy and Mariela, what do you think is Almada’s reasoning behind adding that particular part into the novel?

Not a River was inspired by a conversation that Almada had with a friend at a barbecue, telling her about a giant stingray he caught by shooting it with a gun. Why do you think Almada has used that as her opening scene?

If you enjoyed this book, why not try

The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada

Brickmakers by Selva Almada

Dead Girls by Selva Almada