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Letters from Latin America Leo Boix: September 20, 2023

Reviews of a book of fiction by Colombian writer Margarita Garcia Robayo, a nouvelle by Argentinean author Sara Gallardo and a poetry collection by Argentinean-Spanish poet, novelist and musician Mariano Peyrou

THE main protagonist in Margarita Garcia Robayo’s fast-paced novel The Delivery (Charco Press, £11.99) is a young Colombian woman writer living in Buenos Aires who often wears a T-shirt with the words “Rabid Fox” on it.

This is quite telling for a character who enjoys looking at half-finished and empty buildings, is despised by most of her neighbours for being “weird” and who thinks that families “are ambushes” and “flammable places.”

She will suddenly receive an enormous package from her sister that will eventually disrupt her daily life and will make a “fissure” in the real world. Robayo masterfully constructs a story of family ghosts and memories that put into question what it means to leave behind a country, family and friends for a new place.

The book, skilfully translated by Megan McDowell, is full of wonderful characters. From a mysterious cat called Agatha who appears and disappears, a boyfriend called Axel who wants to make a documentary on whales, and a critical friend called Marah to a ghostly mother who confronts her daughter with unstable notions of foreignness, displacement and belonging.

“I will never feel a belonging. It doesn’t matter how much I force the thread of kinship and memory to find the meaning, the origin, the seed of belonging,” explains the protagonist as she tries to make sense of her life.

Robayo uses dark humour, irony and biting language to create a book that exposes the vulnerabilities and nuances of being a foreigner in Argentina.

January (Archipelago books, £14), by Sara Gallardo and translated by Frances Riddle and Maureen Shaughnessy, is now rightfully considered a masterpiece of Argentinean literature.

This beautifully written novel tells the story of Nefer, a 16-year-old farmworker from the Argentine pampas, who after being sexually abused by a local farmer, faces the prospect of an abortion or becoming a young ostracised mother.

“They talk about the harvest but they don’t know that by then there’ll be no turning back, Nefer thinks. Everyone here and everywhere else will know by then, and they won’t be able to stop talking about it.” So begins this book full of lyrical descriptions of a striking landscape and people that shape Nefer’s experiences.

Gallardo’s narrative is a powerful examination of class, gender and societal pressures. Originally published in 1958, it now feels very current in the aftermath of the “Ni Una Menos” (Not a single one less) movement that began in 2015 in Latin America to fight against the growing cases of femicide and violence against women.

This book is now taught in many schools in Argentina, a testament to Gallardo’s radical originality and her feminist power for change. A tour-de-force.

I am a big follower of Mariano Peyrou’s poetry work. His new collection in English, Possibilities in Shade (Shearsman Books, £10.95), lovingly translated by Terence Dooley, is a long and thought-provoking meditation on love, desire, language and memory.

It effortlessly moves between sleep and wakefulness, as if the poet had written this arresting ode-poem in an insomniac state of mind: “Perhaps that eye isn’t beautiful,/ but I see it as beautiful because I can enter it / and see myself as beautiful, sad and accepted,/ fragile and small,/ flying above the things of the world.”

Peyrou’s lyrical voice transforms everyday life into a poetic experience that moves the reader in unexpected ways. A beloved partner, a chair, an eye, a mountain, a river or a cherry are part of the poet’s cosmogony; a world that sings with vitality and a unique poetic force: “Perhaps, like everything that / principally involves us to elude / its absence, my desire aspires / to enter reality and spend beauty,/ to find out if every revelation demonstrates / a truth.”


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