Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Beth Kephart
Regeneration can mean the process of renewal, rebirth. In biology it can also mean the regrowth of lost parts. Often, it has a moral or spiritual connotation. Small Damages by Beth Kephart takes place in Spain, where 18-year-old Kenzie lives amongst the survivors of the Spanish Civil War. The “lost generation.” Kenzie is pregnant, about to give birth to a new generation. She literally embodies all of these permutations of the word “regeneration.”

Estela, the cook whom Kenzie is assisting, was roughly the same age as Kenzie when the war took hold in Spain and her family lost everything. Worse, Estela lost both her parents. But we don’t learn the extent of her loss right away.

Kenzie has lost her father. The parent to whom she was closest. The one from whom she inherited her creativity. Her father was a photographer; Kenzie is a filmmaker. Through Kenzie’s first-person narrative we learn how observant she is, how closely she inspects her world. Kenzie has lost her compatriot, her father, her confidant. Lonely and alone in the wake of her father’s death, she responded to the kindnesses of her dear friend Kevin, and their intimacy grew into a physical one. Now she charts the life growing inside her by the milestones outlined in her eighth grade health class: a necklace of bones, the presence of fingernails.

When Kenzie’s father died, the pain of his loss was almost physical to her. The pain was so acute because of the joy he brought to Kenzie while he lived. She cannot take any more loss. When she learns of her pregnancy, Kenzie wants her child to live, even if it means going to Spain and giving up her child to friends of her mother’s. Kenzie wants to give her child a chance. 

Beth Kephart exposes what it means for Kenzie to live through this process of regeneration--incubating this life within her--but also what her presence does to bring about Estela’s regeneration. In one scene, after months of building a trust between them, Estela takes Kenzie out to a field. They knock away dust “soft as a baby’s head” from a grindstone. Estela explains it’s where they once crushed the olives for their olive oil. Now they ship the olives away, and the oil comes back in bottles. “Something’s missing,” Estela says. Kenzie connects Estela’s grindstone with her father’s headstone, newly laid, her wound still fresh. Something is missing for her, too.

For both Estela and Kenzie, the life they once knew has vanished. But together, through their friendship and shared pain across a generation, they’ve made something new.


  1. I really loved the quiet power of this book and all of Kephart's other books.

  2. oh, my gosh, Jenny. I only now saw this, alerted to it by Serena herself. And here I was, thinking of you earlier today. Just, thinking of you.

    Well, perhaps we are connected like that.

    Thank you, Jenny. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for your wonderful book, Beth. And thank you for writing, Serena. Quiet power is exactly the phrase. Exactly.