WEEKLY WONDER: The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch (#21)

Hey everyone!

Welcome to Weekly Wonder! This is a weekly series in which we add the cream of the literary crop to your TBRs.

This week’s Wonder is:

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch Cover



A little girl in Eastern Europe loses her entire family in a bomb blast and the moment is captured by a photographer. While this girl finds her place in the world, a writer friend of the photographer, distressed by the loss of her child, begins to write a story based on the little girl’s life. When the writer is battling death with an unfinished manuscript at her table, her fellow artists go on a quest to bring her the girl in hopes of giving her the will to live. They think they are “rescuing” her. Are they? Read the book to find out!

Still in two minds? Check this trailer out:


“Who are we in moments of crisis or despair? Do we become deeper, truer selves, or lift up and away from a self, untethered from regular meanings like moths suddenly drawn toward heat or light? Are we better people when someone might be dying, and if so, why? Are we weaker, or stronger? Are we beautiful, or abject? Serious, or cartoon? Do we secretly long for death to remind us we are alive?”

“Any child is stronger than a mother, since the love we have for our children could kill us.”

“Memory has no syntax.”

“Photographs replace memory. Photographs replace lived experience. History.”

“There is a history to art, I’ve learned. Religion. Philosophy. Myth. Photography. I am reading about them. But there are chapters, whole books, missing. I see the stories of women, but they are always stuck inside the stories of men. Why is that?…

I pull down from the shelves a book of world mythology and my sadness grows. Artemis, why the paler sister of Apollo, whom she brought through blood into the world from her mother’s womb with her own hands? I turn to the section about my part of the world, and in the mythology of my so-called people–the goddesses–what use are they? Why did I ever like these stories? What is Gabija, goddess of fire, who protects against unclean people? I do not need this protection. It is a trick to place fear there. What use is Laima, goddess of fate, luck, childbirth, marriage, and death, if she keeps women inside the house, away from the open space of the world? Saule–saint of orphans, symbol of the sun…who cannot teach me what the fire inside me is. Who would have me put it out, or give it to a man? Still, I have torn pictures of them all from books and pasted them next to my own paintings in the barn, hoping for company. Though I find it hard to trust them. I wonder about what they want.”


  • The inspiration from this picture:

Kevin Carter Child Vulture Picture

  • The way Yuknavitch brings out the ethical concerns raised by the above picture in the real world. She makes sure that the weight of the ethics is felt without making the book’s focus the morality of war photography. Also, she doesn’t take sides.
  • The book brings out the clear distinction between perception and reality in an elegant, subtle way.
  • Yuknavitch breaks the conventions of narrative and plays around with different forms.
  • The multiple narrators make the book very interesting. The little girl in the photograph; its photographer; the writer; her husband, the filmmaker; her ex-husband, the artist; her brother, the playwright; a performance artist, a painter and a poet (I think I got them all) all contribute to the tale in their unique, distinct ways.
  • None of the narrators are named. Their art is their identity. In fact, the narrative style of each artist corresponds to their art and personality. For instance, the painter focuses primarily on faces and the expressions on those faces and the poet, being a dominatrix, has a tendency to notice how dependant an individual is on others.
  • The corporeal style is amazing. Yuknavitch writes by and through the body. Her work is a bodily, fleshly, carnal, somatic, human, mortal, earthly, physical, material being.
  • I love the sheer personal nature of the book. I could sense that this writer has suffered great loss and has led a significantly disturbed life just by reading the book. I had no choice but to explore deeper into Yuknavitch’s life and read her other books.
  • Yuknavitch explores the nature of art; the boundaries between art and reality; the interaction between an artist’s life and their work and most importantly, the role that art plays in the life of an artist.
  • Yuknavitch is very honest is her portrayal of sex and violence. So much so that this book is not recommended for those who are easily disturbed or offended.

I hope you like the book as much as I did! Do let me know what you think in the comments!

Already read it? How did it resonate with you? Do you agree/disagree with anything I wrote in this post? Put it all in the comments!

Happy Reading!



10 thoughts on “WEEKLY WONDER: The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch (#21)

  1. Pingback: Compare and Contrast: Girl at War by Sara Novic and The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch – BOOKLOVERS' HAVEN

  2. Pingback: Happy Birthday! – BOOKLOVERS' HAVEN

  3. All right so… Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the book. I don’t usually mind multiple POVs but in this book I sometimes couldn’t figure out who was narrating certain segments. I also got completely confused during the part of the book where it was written in two parallel columns between the writer and the girl. I think I am just too literal minded for the way this one was written. I was also taken aback by the emphasis on sex. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a major focus.

    A book on a similar topic, which I did truly love, is Girl at War by Sara Novic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Firstly, I’m glad that you tried the book and came over to share your thoughts.

      I can understand where you are coming from. I too find multiple narratives confusing and I guess because (I feel) all the characters are essentially a part of Yuknavitch’s personality, they could become similar in some ways. However, one thing I noticed was that the characters thought and noticed things in different ways and that helped me keep track of them. For example, the filmmaker focussed on the atmosphere in the scene, the painter had a tendency to emphasize faces in the narrative and the performance artist was very aware of body language. That helped me distinguish between them. But then again, I was analyzing her style while reading the novel so I was on the lookout for things like that while some people might not be. This book is a bit abstract and metaphorical in ways that may not be entirely compatible with someone who is literal, true.

      As for the emphasis on sex, sex and violence play a major role in Yuknavitch’s work. This is because she is someone who writes corporeal works. The element of the body is very important. The physical body. And sex and violence are essential aspects in context of the body. The sex is not meant to be erotic, it isn’t erotic in the way say, Fifty Shades of Grey or The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy is. It is there because it plays a role. Sex also plays a role in the art of all the characters as you might have noticed. This is essential because, according to psychology, art and creativity are basically expressions of repressed unacceptable urges and sexual urges play a major role in the same. The emphasis on sex and violence is not exactly the kind that we see in our everyday lives in art. The kind meant to monetize on scenes of blood and sex symbols but an HONEST portrayal of the existence of these elements in our lives and how they impact us that we choose to ignore. If you would like to try out the corporeal style of writing, try the other works of Lidia Yuknavitch, the writings of Kathy Acker and Hannah Silva. However, if you feel this is not your type, I strongly recommend not reading the same.

      I respect your judgement of the book and respect YOU for going to the trouble of coming here and sharing it. I would, however, like to give you a different perspective on things. Just food for thought.

      Girl at War is one book that I will have to try. As soon as my exams are over.

      Thanks for coming over and letting us know your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’m definitely not saying it wasn’t well-written or doesn’t have definite merit. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. I am glad I tried it, though. I wasn’t at all familiar with the concept of “corporeal style” writing and now I know what that means!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It is refreshing to see that there is someone out there who can appreciate a work while expressing their personal dislike towards it. Thank you for that. I’m glad that I could introduce you to the corporeal style. Do you plan to read any other works in this style?

          PS: Sorry for the late reply. Exams have been eating away at my days.


    1. It is a wonderful book. Its just that it is not one of those books that every single person can read. It is highly experimental. Do try it. I’m glad I could warm you up to it. Please let me know what you think of it once you have read it. I’d love to know your take.


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