Lauren's Reviews > The Invisible Mountain

The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis
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Aug 07, 09

Recommended for: Andrea

The Invisible Mountain is an impressive and ambitious debut novel. It tells the story - told in poetic oral history - of three generations of women in a working class family in Uruguay. It is the story of the rise and fall of the fortunes of the three women in conjunction with the rise and fall of Uruguay.

The novel is split into three sections, named after each of the women: Pajarita, Eva, and Salome. The novel captures the voices of each of the women and each section has a different "feel". Each section describes the women's trajectories from girlhood to young womanhood to motherhood and describes how the women come to terms with the realities of their lives compared to their youthful aspirations. Uruguayan history and their hopes and dreams for their country are mixed in to these personal histories.

The novel begins with Salome writing a letter to an unknown daughter and abruptly shifts to a magical, Isabel Allende/Gabriel Garcia Marquez-style story set in a small gaucho town in turn of the century Uruguay. The star of this section is Pajarita, who begins life as a nameless baby who disappears, then magically reappears several months later perched high in the branches of a tree. Pajarita grows up in a ranch with cow skull stools and never leaves her village until a traveling circus comes to town. She marries an Italian immigrant, Ignazio Firielli and moves to the growing Montevideo. Her section continues until Eva, her youngest child is a young girl.

The second section is about Pajarita's daughter Eva, beginning when Eva is about 5 years old. Eva is literate, unlike her mother, but her fortunes change drastically when she is drawn out of school to work. This section of the novel is beautiful poetry, capturing Eva's romanticism, hopes, and dreams to the cadence of Carlos Gardel's tangos. You can taste the flavors of Uruguay, and feel the lushness, aspirations, sensuality, and romance of 1930s to 1950s Montevideo and Buenos Aires (we even meet Eva Peron and Ernesto "Che" Guevarra!) in these sections. All the same, the section captures the darkness underlying that period of romance and optimism, in that male dominated society where a woman's virtue is of paramount importance and a man's power almost complete.

The third section is about Salome, Eva's daughter. Salome is an idealist - a Tupamara rebel - who is forced to face the harsh realities of authoritarianism in Uruguay. The Salome sections are poetic, but less poetic compared to Eva, less magical compared to Pajarita - there is no Tango here, no Carlos Gardel, no glamourous cafe, no famous poets, no larger than life revolutionaries. This reflects, I think, the different environment in which she comes of age. Pajarita's youth is a period of national ebullience, reflecting the excitement of a rapidly developing Montevideo at the early part of the century. Eva's youth is a period of transition, an Uruguay where girls still may need to work, but one that is flush with pesos and tango and an unshakeable belief in greatness. Salome's time is one of disillusionment with the state, with imperialism, and a desire for change and hope for a better future that is ultimately crushed by the realities of the cold war.

At several times throughout the book, De Robertis begins a chapter with the words Monte vide eu, which in Portuguese means I see a mountain. The name Montevideo is derived from this phrase, which the author comments is ironic because really, there is no mountain near Montevideo, just a hill. This phrase is symbolic of many things in the novel. It is symbolic of the romanticization of Batlle in the early part of the century and in the belief of the strength of democracy in Uruguay. It turned out that the popular wisdom that Uruguay, unlike its neighbors in Latin America, was safe from dictatorship was wrong. Uruguayan democracy and Batllismo was seen as this giant fixture in the background of national development, this fantastic mountain, but really it was a tiny blip, a hill, misdescribed as a mountain. I think the characters hopes and dreams were also similar to the mythical mountain - Monte Vide Eu - their futures seemed so promising and hopeful, but reality was more modest and disappointing.

The novel is multilayered - one to savor and reflect upon. De Robertis covers many difficult topics, from rape to torture, but her story does not linger on this darkness and dispair in a disturbing fashion, telling just enough for the reader to know what happened, but not describing it in horrifying detail as she could have done. De Robertis is a gifted writer. She captures her characters voices and makes them each so real, so different. She also does a fantastic job of capturing the cadence and rhythm of twentieth century Latin America. This novel is phenomenal. Di Robertis has a promising career ahead of her!

*Advanced Readers Edition reviewed.
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