This is a beautiful book. I picked it up because I read a few good reviews and because it hit a lot of categories in this year’s reading challenge. I didn’t really have any idea what it was about.
It’s about five women -“cantoras” or “women who sing” (implied: to other women…) in Uruguay in the 70s and 80s. I did not know this, but in 1977, a military government Uruguay, a military government came to power and, unsurprisingly, crushed dissent, as you do when you are dictatorship. Homosexuality was among the many things you could be arrested, imprisoned, or disappeared for. Despite this – or perhaps because of this – five women find each other. Romina, Flaca, Anita “La Venus,” Paz, and Malena meet collectively on an almost spur-of-the-moment trip to an isolated beach. Three of them know each other or are lovers, two of them were last-minute invitees. But the beach and its wild, eternal waves and free, salty wind give them a chance to be themselves, to be free, to lose themselves in nature and conversation. It’s only a week, but it kicks off a lifetime of friendship as they travel back to their normal lives in Montevideo and meet new lovers, new friends, and fight, each in her own way, the oppressive regime.
This is an enchanting, wonderful book. Each character is so well-drawn, so beautiful. Their story is so deeply felt, and their friendships so real. Each character’s struggle is so consistently rendered, so believable, so heartbreaking. Although the narrative unfolds at a relatively slow pace, I found it to be a real page-turner, staying up til 1 am to finish it and thinking about the characters throughout the day. Also, I learned so much about Uruguay!
I know it’s only Jan 31, but this is the best book of the year for me so far, by far.