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Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – January 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
"Until very recently," novelist Allende writes in the foreword to this comprehensive collection, "Latin American literature was-with very few exceptions-a man's game." No more. Combining prominent names such as Luisa Valenzuela, Elena Poniatowska and Allende with others little known outside their home countries, this anthology shows off the wealth of fiction being written today by Latin American women. Editor Correas de Zapata, a San Jose State University professor of Hispanic literature, has chosen stories from around the continent and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Brazilian author Clarice Lispector's "Looking for Some Dignity" is a bracing tale of an elderly women's creeping senility and waning sense of self. A number of stories, such as "Sophie and the Angel," by Cuba's Dora Alonso, about an old widow visited by an angel playing an electric guitar, show that Latin American men don't hold the patent on magic realism. Others, such as "Cloud Cover Caribbean," by Ana Lydia Vega of Puerto Rico, are firmly in the realist tradition; in this case, a refugee boat heading toward Miami founders because of the mutual mistrust of the passengers. If there's a flaw, it's that the sheer number of authors-31 in all-coupled with the brevity of each selection make it difficult for individual voices to stand out. The editor clearly favors breadth over depth, showcasing as many writers as possible in this appealing smorgasbord.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This thoughtful collection is another welcome addition to the small but growing body of literature by contemporary Latin American women writers in translation. (See, for instance, Landscapes of a New Land , LJ 12/89.) The anthology includes 32 short stories by 31 women from 14 countries. The writers are all well known in their own countries, but few--except Isabel Allende, who has also written the foreword--will be known to most readers in this country. The other writers, including Clarice Lispector, Carmen Naranjo, Luisa Valenzuela, Rima de Vallbona, and others, certainly deserve our recognition. Correas de Zapata's scholarly introduction sets the tone for the collection, which should be enjoyed by nonscholars as well.
- Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll . Lib., McMinnville, Ore.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The oldest writers it contained were Bolivia's María Virginia Estenssoro (1902-70), Paraguay's Josefina Pla (1909-99), Chile's María Luisa Bombal (1910-80), Argentina's Luisa Mercedes Levinson (1910-87), Cuba's Dora Alonso (1910-2001), Venezuela's Antonia Palacios (1910-2001) and Mexico's Elena Garro (1916-98). Those born in the 1920s and 30s included Marta Traba, Clarice Lispector, Nélida Piñon, Carmen Naranjo, Rosario Castellanos and Elena Poniatowska. The youngest were those born in the 1940s: Isabel Allende, Liliana Heker, Rosario Ferré and Christina Peri Rossi. Writers such as Laura Esquivel, born later, and Gabriela Mistral and Carmen Lyra, born before 1900, weren't included. Brazil's Dinah Silveira de Queiroz and Lygia Fagundes Telles were other, more contemporary writers who weren't selected.
As far as could be judged, the pieces ranged from the 1930s to the 1980s, with the main focus on the last few decades. Argentina had the greatest number of selections, with Levinson, Orozco, Traba, Valenzuela, Kociancich, Heker and Glickman, followed by Mexico, with Garro, Dueñas, Castellanos, Dávila and Poniatowska. Although the collection aimed to highlight female writers in the region, it provided only brief biographies for the authors and almost no information on the dates of publication or sources for the stories it contained.
The stories were of many types. A number were good at conveying their female protagonists' shifting mental landscapes as they considered or struggled against their husband (Bombal, Castellanos), revenged themselves on man and fate (Levinson), fantasized about love (Guerra), relived moments of deepest intimacy with a former lover (Palacios), meditated on what it meant to have a child (Estenssoro), recalled a youthful obsession with the worlds of fragrances and shoes (Duenas), or faced old age and approaching death (Lispector).
Others contained a narrator but gave most attention to the surrounding characters. For example, a story by Llano about a family that found its dead relatives appearing on the other side of a mirror in their home. Or Glickman's story set in the past, describing relationships among her elderly Jewish relatives and friends, emigrants from persecution in Europe.
Most of the stories were set in the present, more or less. Others were set in the past: the story by Glickman, or a story by Kociancich, which took its inspiration from a well-known woodcut from the Renaissance picturing a knight, death and the devil. Another, by Pla, depicted the final moments of a former Spanish conquistador, dying in bed in the new land, old and isolated from those around him. One, by Yáñez Cossío, took place in the future. It had no main characters and seemed to be a parable about society as a whole, using mainly the subject of computers.
Some of the stories were written ostensibly from a man's point of view. Besides those by Kociancich and Pla just mentioned, one by de Vallbona showed a young man's horror at his mother's declaration of freedom from her marriage, hand in hand with his growing attraction. In a story by Araujo, a narrator from a privileged group of leftist students recounted a kidnapping they attempted that went wrong; this was one of the few stories from the region I've read that referred to the period of student unrest in the 1960s.
An unsubtle story by Piñon showed a male landowner's reverence for his prize cow, from her purchase to her giving birth, to her sickness and death. A parody by Poniatowska took the form of a letter written by a jealous man to a French film actress, denouncing her for her "infidelity" to him by falling in love on screen, and ending by asking for her autograph and revealing he was in jail for attacking her image in the theater. In a funny story by Vega, which began on a makeshift craft struggling toward the U.S., two Spanish-speaking refugees from Cuba and the Dominican Republic ganged up on a French-speaking Haitian, but to the North Americans on the ship that rescued them they all looked the same. The only person on the ship shown to be working was a Puerto Rican deep in the hold.
A handful of other stories were fragmented, rambling or tiresome, with a point I was unable to grasp.
Almost none of the stories, when they focused on women, showed them in control of their own lives or free of the limits placed on them by families, husbands or lovers. Very few stories focused on, say, love between equals or the love between mothers and children. In a rare work showing a couple on more or less equal terms (Naranjo), a man and woman fell into a relationship and each started taking on characteristics of the other: the man became pregnant, and the woman began growing a beard and speaking in a deep voice. The story by Allende was primarily about the violence that brought a man and a woman together and then drove them apart, in the form of a folktale or allegory, with characters larger than life. None of the stories contained anything so mundane as a woman at work in an office.
Many of the stories used magic realist devices like exaggeration and absurdity (Solari, Naranjo) or blended hallucination and reality (Guerra, Davila, Llano, Palacios, Ferré, Garro). In the work by Solari, students attacked and ate a sensitive poet-teacher who'd lost control of her class. In the piece by Davila, a man saw his double walking with a stranger, and his consciousness shifted gradually into that of the second man or something deeper, resembling the style of Cortàzar. The work by Ferré shifted between the points of view of a selfish mother-in-law, bookish daughter and omniscient narrator, jumped back and forth in time, and was circular in form, with the conclusion becoming the beginning. The story by Garro contained a woman who appeared to belong to both the modern day and the time of the Spanish Conquest, with a husband in the present and a wounded Indian lover in the past, and the two realities penetrating each other. Other than these last two relatively complex pieces, for the most part the stories avoided complicated shifts in point of view or time like those found in writers like Asturias, Carpentier, Lezama Lima, Rulfo, Donoso, Sarduy or Arenas. Nor were there metaphysically intricate constructions like those of Borges.
For me, a handful of stories were really outstanding all the way through: Levinson, say, or Poniatowska. Yet the editor took great care in selecting a range of authors, styles and subjects, and that range, rather than the power of any particular story, was what was enjoyed most. The writing, too, ran along a spectrum from the following, in one piece:
"During the following days both of them opened the floodgates of repressed love and, for the first time since their cruel fate was decided, opened themselves to receive the other's proximity."
To this in another work, by Levinson:
"The expression on her face was no different from that of a great many women one meets in towns or cities: a mask of melancholy or tedium, and behind the mask, nothing . . . . Stretched out on the hammock, fanning herself, her face impassive, it was only her body that moved, undulating over the netting, multiplying its flutterings like the thousands of brilliant underwater fish disputing among themselves in an unnatural environment, to no end; all a bit monstrous."
This, by Palacios:
"And Delia feels fulfilled, frightened with a fulfillment and abandon that leaves her she knows not where . . . .Delia forgets her name, her birthdate, her fingerprints, those shallow curving designs on her fingertips . . . And Delia is moving, moving with the earth alongside Joaquín with an inebriating and all-enveloping sensation and feels lifted and detached from this earth, projected to those infinite heights she may not reach; or maybe descending, slowly, to those depths beyond the subsoil, beyond the seas, beyond the bottoms of the seas . . . Delia loses her memory and all notion of time, hours or minutes, seconds or centuries. Delia forgets yesterday's memories and tomorrow's . . ."
And this, by Lispector:
"But it happens that the woman also thought: it was too late to have a destiny. She thought that any kind of switch with another human being would do her good. It was then that it occurred to her there was no one else with whom she could trade places . . . . Why hadn't the other old women advised her that this could happen until the end? . . . . Without even one sublime thought to serve as a rudder and ennoble her existence . . . . She concluded that she was going to die as secretly as she had lived. But she also knew that every death is secret . . . .
"It was then that Mrs. Jorge B. Xavier abruptly doubled over the sink as though she were going to vomit out her viscera and she interrupted her life with an explosive silence: there!--has!--to!--be!--a!--way!--out!"
Earlier anthologies of female writers for the region include Other Fires: Short Fiction by Latin American Women (1986) and Landscapes of a New Land: Short Fiction by Latin American Women (1989). Later ones include Out of the Mirrored Garden (1995) and Cruel Fictions, Cruel Realities: Short Stories by Latin American Women Writers (1997).
There were a few very well-written stories that I enjoyed immensely. Then there were the horror stories you wish you hadn't read, like "Death And Transfiguration of A Teacher" in which the female students killed, cut up & ate their sensitive and poetic teacher! I get the allusion. As a teacher myself, I often referred to the fresh new teachers as being eaten alive by the students, but still, it was not the kind of story one wants to read before going to sleep.
Most of the stories were quite rewarding, though I would have preferred to have discussed each story in a classroom or group situation as I think I would have gotten more out of them.
Such seems to be the way of Latino authors, both male and female. They are so rich with metaphor and nuance that they are meant to be read in a group where they can be discussed.