Ms. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist

by Kathleen Alcalá

This first collection of 14 short stories set in Mexico and the Southwest takes the reader to a place where miracles flower in neglected courtyards, and where Alcalá’s characters access the magic inherent in the landscape and in themselves. If you like the magic-realism novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or of Isabelle Allende or Jane Bowles, you need to read this stunning short-story collection.



“Each story unfolds with humor and simplicity and perfect naturalness into something original and totally unpredictable. Not one tale is like another, yet all together they form a beautiful whole, a world where one would like to stay forever. The kingdoms of Borges and Garcia lie just over the horizon, but this landscape of desert towns and dreaming hearts, of lost sisters and ghost scientists, is Alcalá-land. It lies across the border between Mexico and California, across the border between the living and the dead, across all the borders – a true new world.” —Ursula K. Le Guin

“By making the unlikely seem commonplace, Ms. Alcalá draws on the strong tradition of magic realism in Latin American literature.” —New York Times Book Review

“An intensely imaginative, often compelling debut.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Exudes a seemingly effortless charm, piquing the palate with a modicum of Latin-style spice.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“Not since Ron Arias’ The Road to Tamazunchale have I been so captivated by the story and the style. I am sure Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist will stand the test of time. A most welcome contribution to the world of literature, especially that stamped with the magic of Mexico.”—Rudolfo Anaya, author of Bless Me Ultima

“Kathleen Alcalá has written a superb collection. Gentle and lyrical, her stories open onto lives and legacies we cannot afford not to know.”—Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passages


Kathleen Alcalá is also the author of a trilogy of novels set in 19th-century Mexico: Spirits of the Ordinary (Harcourt Brace), which received the 1998 PNBA fiction award; The Flower in the Skull (Chronicle Books), which received the WESTAF Fiction award; and Treasures in Heaven (Chronicle Books). She has received the King County Publication Award, the PNBA Award, the Washington Governor’s Writers Award, the Western States Book Award for Fiction, and the Washington State Book Award. She is a co-founder of and a contributing editor to The Raven Chronicles, and has taught at numerous colleges and workshops throughout the country. A member of Los Norteños, a group of writers and performers, Kathleen was born in Compton, California, to Mexican parents. She lives on Bainbridge Island (WA) with her husband and son. More at