Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis

A gripping and lyrical story—at once expansive and lush with detail—this debut novel is a deeply intimate exploration of the search for love and authenticity, power and redemption, in the lives of three women, and a penetrating portrait of a small, tenacious nation, Uruguay, shaken in the gales of the twentieth century.

On the first day of the millennium, a small town gathers to witness a miracle and unravel its portents for the century: the mysterious reappearance of a lost infant, Pajarita. Later, as a young woman in the capital city—Montevideo, brimming with growth and promise—Pajarita begins a lineage of fiercely independent women. Her daughter, Eva, survives a brutal childhood to pursue her dreams as a rebellious poet and along the hazardous precipices of erotic love. Eva’s daughter, Salomé, driven by an unrelenting idealism, commits clandestine acts that will end in tragedy as unrest sweeps Uruguay. But what saves them all is the fierce fortifying connection between mother and daughter that will bring them together to face the future.

From Perón’s glittering Buenos Aires to the rustic hills of Rio de Janeiro, from the haven of a corner butchershop in Montevideo to U.S. embassy halls, the Firielli family traverses a changing South America and the uncharted terrain of their relationships with one another.

Goodreads Description

I was expecting to be disappointed by this book. With its similarities to Allende's House of Spirits (three generations of women living through times of oppression), I thought it would suffer in comparison, that it might be light South American magic realism. I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed the book and found that it stood on its own as a piece of literature.

The magic realism in the book is more obvious at the beginning of the book with the miracle of Pajarita's survival and fades as we move further into the rationalist twentieth century and away from the rural setting to the urban. However, there was throughout the book a sense of returning imagery, of poetry and words, that is magic realist:  her pen moved and moved without her hand seeming to push it, forming the spines and spikes and loops of cursive words, sharp t’s and j’s, y’s and g’s with knots at their base as though to tie themselves together, tie women back together, and as she wrote the loops grew large, as if more rope were needed to bind what had blown apart inside her.

One of the book's strengths is the author's portrayal of the psychology of the main characters. They are not perfect, they are at times unattractive, but we are shown how their faults are the product of their experiences and sometimes genes. The best example of this is Eva's story.  Having suffered sexual abuse at the hand of her employer and family friend, she finds it hard to trust and relate to men. She manipulates her husband, a good man, into marrying her and giving her the economic security she craves, but that is not enough. She is oppressed by the upper bourgeois life she must lead as his wife, she is living a lie. It cannot last. This reader's sympathies was with both of them.

If I were to criticize this book, I would point out the way in which Pararita and then Eva fade into the background as the focus shifts on to the story of the next generation. I was loathe to lose them and their point of view. Nevertheless the author does a good job of weaving recurring imagery and themes through the generations to give a continuity.  The major theme of the book is of course motherhood and specifically mothers and their daughters. There is a wonderful description of Eva with her children: Eva could walk down the street- one child's hand in each of hers - and be struck by a fierce and sudden gale of happiness. It made her want to skip and run and kick up puddle water and pursue the sensuous crunch of brown leaves beneath her boot. So much opulent sensation on one sidewalk. 'Salomé, you get that one!' Small galoshes crushed a leaf, another, and two giggles (a three-year-old's, her mother's) mixed with the crackling sound.  Any mother will know that sensation of sudden maternal joy. 

With Salomé's story the politics of Uruguay come to the fore. Again Salomé's motivations for her actions are well-drawn. Although she actively chooses to get involved in revolutionary politics, she also slides into it, influenced as much by friendship as by youthful zeal. But the theme of motherhood is still there in Salomé's story and the book ends as it begins with Salomé writing to the daughter who does not know her story. 
I recommend this book to you. 

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