Perla (De Robertis)

I remember that a review sent me looking for this book, but then the cover put me off – a woman’s face partially concealed by red flowers I could probably name if I knew about such things. It put me off so long that I forgot what the book was about. My knowledge of Argentina comes from the football team and the movie – from, in other words, Maradona and Madonna. I learned so much more here.

The first thing that got my attention here was the sensuousness of De Robertis’ sentences. The only reason I didn’t mark more of them is that doing so would have slowed me down. Of one crucial conversation, she writes

And this is more than just a night; it is a home carved into wasteland, a candle in black sky, salt on the tongue of the dying, defying the demands of oblivion.

I’ve always enjoyed this quotation by Marquez about magical realism –

“It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”

There’s an essential element in this novel that some likely call magical realism. (Would they if the book were set somewhere other than Latin America?) But it never struck me that way. It struck me as absolutely true, which I recognize can be part of the definition – an extraordinary thing presented in an ordinary way. Still, De Robertis’ choice never struck me that way (though I confess to not being a huge reader of magical realism). I think the choice (I am desperately trying to avoid a spoiler here) was the only one she could make.

I had to force myself to ration this book – to chew on a few pages at a time much the way one character seems to chew on water. At one point, the gorgeous simplicity of the book overwhelmed me. It is maybe the third or fourth book that has sent me scurrying to the computer to find out if it’s already been adapted. It would make a wonderful play.

I get such joy out of discovering someone who is, for me, a new voice. This is the second of her three books. I already checked the library today for the other two (no luck). Soon, though. Very soon.




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