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The Invisible Mountain (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – August 10, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Book Description
From the verdant hills of Rio de Janeiro to Evita Perón’s glittering Buenos Aires, from the haven of a corner butcher shop to the halls of the United States Embassy in Montevideo, this gripping novel—at once expansive and lush with detail—examines the intertwined fates of a continent and a family in upheaval. The Invisible Mountain is a deeply intimate exploration of the search for love and authenticity in the lives of three women, and a penetrating portrait of the small, tenacious nation of Uruguay, shaken by the gales of the twentieth century.

On the first day of the year 1900, a small town deep in the Uruguayan countryside gathers to witness a miracle—the mysterious reappearance of a lost infant, Pajarita—and unravel its portents for the century. Later, as a young woman in the capital city—Montevideo, brimming with growth and promise—Pajarita begins a lineage of fiercely independent women with her enamored husband, Ignazio, a young immigrant from Italy and the inheritor of both a talent for boat making and a latent, more sinister family trait. Their daughter, Eva, a fragile yet ferociously stubborn beauty intent on becoming a poet, overcomes an early, shattering betrayal to embark on a most unconventional path toward personal and artistic fulfillment. And Eva’s daughter, Salomé, awakening to both her sensuality and political convictions amid the violent turmoil of the late 1960s, finds herself dangerously attracted to a cadre of urban guerrilla rebels, despite the terrible consequences of such principled fearlessness.

Provocative, heartbreaking and ultimately life-affirming, The Invisible Mountain is a poignant celebration of the potency of familial love, the will to survive in the most hopeless of circumstances, and, above all, the fierce, fortifying connection between mother and daughter.

A Q&A with Carolina De Robertis

Question: When did you first have the idea to write The Invisible Mountain? Was there a particular event or idea that was its genesis?

Answer: The first moment of genesis occurred when I was ten years old. It was 1985, democracy had just returned to Uruguay, and my mother’s childhood friend was released from political imprisonment. This friend had joined a revolutionary movement at the age of fifteen, and spent thirteen years behind bars under the dictatorship. When my mother learned of her release, our California home filled with an unspoken weight which seemed inextricably tied, not only to this woman’s story, but to our story as well, the greater story of Uruguay. As a child, I was left with burning questions about history, identity, and the radioactive secrets buried beneath the surface of a culture. Those burning questions—along with the desire to bring the beautiful nation of Uruguay to life in an epic book—eventually became the seeds of The Invisible Mountain.

The novelist Annie Dillard has said it beautifully: “There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

Q: Where does the title The Invisible Mountain come from?

A: According to national lore, the name “Montevideo” comes from an early Portuguese sailor who, on sighting the land that would become Uruguay, called out “Monte vide eu,” or “I see a mountain.” The great irony in this story—which is something of a national joke, as well as a potent parable of this little nation’s self-perception—is that the city of Montevideo lacks elevation. The mountain the man was referring to is actually a low, unassuming hill. I see the themes of this story running though the characters’ lives as they hunger and strive for intangible entities they cannot see.

The title also resonates for me because I see this book, in a sense, as a sprawling love letter to Montevideo—a salute to a small, inimitable city that, against all odds or visual evidence, dares to bear a name that evokes mountains. I have always lived in regions where no one knows about the tiny nation of Uruguay, where people rarely know how to find it on a map—it often feels, globally speaking, like an invisible place, as so many smaller nations do in an increasingly globalized world. Perhaps Uruguay, itself, is the invisible mountain, the complex and stunning terrain that goes unseen. I don’t think writers hold monopolies on interpretation; readers have just as much right to unfold meaning in a text, so I leave it for them to decide.

Q: Why did you decide to make this story a generational saga following the lives of three generations of women over 90 years?

A: The shortest, most direct answer is that this is the book that needed to be written, the book that insisted on coming through. I’m not sure that I ever made such a decision; it feels more as though the story chose me.

It’s certainly true that, among the family narratives I inherited, the women’s stories fascinated me the most. The men in my lineage tended to leave an elaborate oral legacy, while the women were often glossed over with a sentence or two. It seemed to me that there must be a great deal of treasure buried in that silence, and the beautiful thing about fiction is that it can recreate such treasures, even when the factual details have been lost forever.

Creating room for women’s unheard voices has also been a passion of mine beyond the world of fiction. In my early and mid-twenties, in the period when I began writing this book, I spent five years working as a full-time rape crisis counselor. I founded a program for Spanish-speaking Latinas, and listened to over a thousand rape survivors and their loved ones as they delved into and grappled with their experience with sexual assault. I simply don’t have words for how much I learned from my clients, both about the harrowing traumas they endured and the immense resilience they drew on to survive and recover. While none of their individual stories are told here, they taught me more about violence, silence, and human strength than I could have found in a hundred libraries, and I could not have written this book without them.

Q: The Invisible Mountain is a story about family and the power of love and legacy. Yet it also a gripping portrait of a nation very much shaken by the upheavals of the twentieth century. There is much actual history that runs through this novel—from the early days in Montevideo to the days of Peron in Argentina to the Tupamaros revolutionaries in Uruguay. Did you have to do any research into these events, or was much of it drawn from embraces of family who lived through them? Do you have family still living in Uruguay now?

A: I did an enormous amount of research. I went to many libraries, pored over books, and consulted with people who knew more than me. Toni Morrison, whose historical novels are a great inspiration, once said, “I’m just trying to look at something without blinking, to see what it was like, or it could have been like, and how that had something to do with the way we live now.” It was incredibly important to me to look the history of Uruguay in the eye, without blinking, and do my best to explore its implications for everyday life through the worlds of my characters.

I have a wonderful extended family in Montevideo, and my cousins Andrea and Oscar were particularly generous with information, conversation, and help finding the answers to strange questions—not to mention a place to stay. I also drew on friends in Montevideo, like Evelyn, who gave me a stack of history books that proved immensely valuable. I also have an amazing extended family in Buenos Aires, on my father’s side. The last time I visited them, they sent me home with a huge suitcase crammed with books; the customs agents were floored. I’ve been using those books to develop my second novel.

(Photo © Joanne Chan)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The history of Uruguay through the 20th century sparks personal tragedies amid political intrigues and cultural upheavals in this enchanting, funny and heartbreaking debut novel. Three generations of women populate this sweeping saga: Pajarita, the miracle child who at the dawn of the new century disappears and then reappears in a tree, born twice, as the residents of her small town say; Eva, Pajarita's daughter, who suffers a cruel childhood and learns to spin her painful experiences into a new life of art and adventure as a poet; and Salomé, seduced by communism and nearly losing everything fighting for the cause she believes will save her country. This novel is beautifully written yet deliberate in its storytelling. It gains momentum as the women's lives spin increasingly out of control while Uruguay sinks into war, economic instability and revolution. An extraordinary first effort whose epic scope and deft handling reverberate with the deep pull of ancestry, the powerful influence of one's country and the sacrifices of reinvention. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 Reprint edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307456617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307456618
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #993,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel traces a family history through the strong women who shaped it. The story winds through Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, and the United States in an epic tale of three generations.

Pajarita begins the novel, an unwanted baby whose mother died in childbirth. Her tale has its roots in magic, as she is lost as an infant and then found again in a tree high above her village. Her story becomes a sacred family legend, repeated to children and grandchildren throughout the years. Pajarita's marriage is rocky at times, but succeeds in producing three sons and a daughter.

Eva, daughter of Pajarita, is forced out of childhood early, sent to work at the age of ten. She is shattered, pulls herself back together, and escapes her life only to be shattered anew. Her marriage is more for convenience than anything else, but blesses her with a son and a daughter, whom she loves with all of her being. Unlike her mother, who communes with plants and soothes the ills of those around her, Eva takes solace in words and poetry bursts forth from her, enlightening and scandalizing those around her.

Salome, daughter of Eva, finds herself electrified by the rebellion overtaking Uruguay and secretly joins the resistance. It is a choice which eventually carries a terrible price.

I really liked these women and their individual strength and dedication to their families. I was disappointed that there were no equally strong and noble male characters in this book, though; it seemed that men were constantly villains, from the abusive or alcoholic husbands and fathers to the oppressive and sexually abusive bosses, to the intolerant or ignorant elders, to the chronically disappearing brothers. Surely there must have been some worthy men in the lives of these women.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Carolina De Robertis' debut novel is one of lush description and beautiful language. As a South American author, it's not surprising she chose to honor the tradition of magical realism, but she treads that path very lightly (such as a baby found in a tree or a brief mention of a guardian puma), so readers who are frustrated by the ambiguity of magical realism will not have any quarrel with this story.

While the author creates strong, memorable female characters and fully developed settings in representations of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, there are a few problems. The development of a character's anti-Peronist sentiments and their basis is glossed over in a scant few pages, and those sentiments are critical to a major plot point which felt insufficiently motivated. That character has experienced nothing but abuse and abandonment at the hands of men, and with this one act she cruelly and thoughtlessly alienates the one man who was good to her. In the book's third section, the author does much better when showing where a character's political beliefs took form, even at a very young age. However, it still felt unbelievable when two thirteen-year-olds are on the phone, exchanging lines such as "the government has broken off diplomatic relations with Cuba." Certainly history has shown that kids are fascinated with leaders from John F. Kennedy to Osama bin Laden, but it always seems to be the cult of personality that beguiles and not the complicated politics.

There is still much to commend. A subplot involving a transgender character is handled with loving understanding. Details of life in a horrible prison are convincing and disturbing.
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Format: Hardcover
Carolina de Robertis begins her novelist career with a book about three independent women. She writes The Invisible Mountain in three sections. The first section describes the childhood and early married life of Pajarita. The second story describes the childhood and early adulthood of Eva, Pajarita's daughter. And the third story describes the childhood and early adulthood of Salome, Eva's daughter. The political climate in Uruguay and Argentina shape the paths of these three women.

De Robertis did a wonderful job developing each woman within the woman's specific section. She artfully told Uruguay's history about the rise of the Tupamaros, the horrors brought by the military rule, and the democratization of Uruguay. The description of Eva's imprisonment during the military regime continues to haunt me. I also enjoyed catching a brief glimpse of Argentina under Peron's rule and the early years of the Cuban Castro regime.

I wish that de Robertis would have continued to detail some of the thoughts of the previously developed main character(s) in each new section of the book. At the end of Pajarita's section, I wanted to continue reading the book to learn more about Pajarita as well as the second section's main character, Eva. The second section, however, described Eva but subjugated Pajarita's character to an afterthought. Likewise, Eva and Pajarita's stories were both an afterthought in Salome's section. The magical portion of the book added some color to the plots, but my interest in the book did not pique until de Robertis began focusing more on the story and less on magical innuendos. Finally, de Robertis explored many themes, which include childhood rape, transgender love, and adoption; however, she only used a few pages to discuss each of these complex issues that should have been more fully developed.
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