Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Invisible Mountain ~ by Carolina de Robertis, 2009

I read this novel three months ago, but I've had a hard time figuring out what to say about it.  It takes place mostly in Montevideo, Uruguay, and chronicles four generations over several decades.  Ignazio Firielli arrives from Italy and eventually meets Pajarita, the woman who will be his wife.  Pajarita gives birth to Eva, who in her turn gives birth to Salome, who in turn gives birth to Victoria.  Born in prison, Victoria becomes the "daughter" of Salome's brother Robertito and his wife in California.  We see the family's history through the lives of the women:
1924 ~ Pajarita grew up in the country and first arrived in the city as a seventeen-year-old bride.  Now, her husband has not been home for days, leaving her alone with three small children and a house that has run out of food.  Her friend Coco, the butcher's wife, has come over to visit.

1938 ~ Eva is thirteen years old.  After two years of working for a shoe salesman who abused her, she has rebelled against him and her parents, found a job in a fashionable cafe, and begun to spend her evenings with a group of aspiring poets.

1966 ~ Salome is fifteen years old.  She has watched the nation become increasingly repressive, as well as admired the Cuban revolution from afar.  Her best friend, Leona, has just led her to a clandestine meeting.
It's almost too much for me.  Ignazio left Pajarita because ... well, I don't know WHY he left, unless he was too great a coward to face the fact that he gambled away two months pay, leaving no way to feed their three sons.  Because he was upset, he apparently needed to hit something -- like his wife (pp. 53-54):
Two months of pay.  And days yawning in front of them like mouths.

"What will we do?"

No answer.


"Shut up, woman!"  Ignazio stood so suddenly that the table knocked from her hands and fell.  "Shut your stupid f**king mouth."

Pajarita stood too.  "Don't shout at me."

Ignazio tightened backward in an enormous bow and arrow and the force of him flew forward in a fist that crashed against her face so that she fell against the wall, toward the floor; she curled around her burning face -- the world was turning turning, full of shouting, full of stars, full of silence.  Silence.  Pain ebbed slightly. ... But she was bleeding.  She stood up and sought a rag to wipe her face.  The taste of iron tinged her tongue.  She wet the rag and wiped again.  Thank god thank god the children were asleep.  She lifted the table into place, back onto four legs, and cleaned blood from the floor.  Dizzy.  She listened for living room sobs.  None.  She went to look.  There he was, her husband, tear-streaked, drunk, fast asleep in the rocking chair.  She walked past him to her room, to bed, to sleep.

The next morning, when she woke, the rocking chair was empty.  No Ignazio.  She used the last of the flour for bread that day.
He disappeared and she went to work to feed their children, including a girl conceived the night before he gambled away the money.  The girl was five years old when Ignazio returned.  Pajarita asked him:
"Do you have any idea what it's like to see your children hungry?"
No, of course he didn't know.  If he really understood, he couldn't have disappeared with no thought for his wife and three sons.  (And later the baby girl he knew nothing about.)

There's more -- lots more -- including that baby born in prison (the fourth generation in the book).  But I'll end my review here by rating the book 8 of 10, a good book.


Doret said...

I wanted to read this book last year because it got great reviews but I didn't get around to it. Maybe I will now

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Doret, I'm glad you not only have now read the book, but have also interviewed the author:


Carolina De Robertis's web site shows the cover of the new paperback edition of The Invisible Mountain, which was released yesterday:


Doret's review of the novel is here:


Doret said...

Bonnie - I loved Inivisble Mountain. There is so much to this story. I cried so much during Salome's story.

Now, I am happy I have an idea of what mate is.