THE INVISIBLE MOUNTAIN by Carolina de Robertis

Book Quote:

“She told him stories, too, sprawling ones…about a baby girl who disappeared from a home that did not want her, that had not given her a name, and who survived mysteriously until she was discovered, wild, birdlike, alone in the crown of a tree, and soared from there, or fell, depending on whom you asked and when you asked him. She told him about another woman, who, legend had it, met her future husband while she was his patient, in a wheelchair and a dull hospital gown, seducing him with her sheer intensity of spirit…”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (OCT 9, 2010)

The Invisible Mountain is a gem of a novel, grounded in actual history, with a dollop of magical realism, a splash of Dickensian coincidence, with some forbidden romance and political intrigue added to the mix.

The novel opens at the turn of the 20th century in a remote Uruguayan village, when a baby is spirited away and then reappears, a year later, unharmed in the branches of a tree. The young one is named Pajarita – translated to little bird – and the narrative, divided into three sections, sequentially focuses on her, her daughter Eva, and her granddaughter Salome.

All three are strong, impassioned women, who are capable of making bold choices in order to remain authentic and true to themselves. As the century opens up with more options for women, the choices become increasingly bolder. One of the beauties of The Invisible Mountain is that the prose accurately mirrors the country of Uruguay – from a time when gentle magic lit it from within to the near-present, when the country struggled under the harsh light of despotic politics.

Each woman is named fortuitously and fulfills the destiny of her name. Each in turn, embraces passion, poetry, and politics and becomes a vessel into which De Robertis pours decades of Uruguayan and Argentinian culture and family dynamics. The magical lyricism (think: Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez) is replaced with the intense and painful down-to-earth images of a country that has veered from its destiny and imprisoned those with the courage to speak out.

De Robertis writes: “This Uruguay: less innocent, smaller somehow, dwarfed by the looming world, more wounded, bleeding people out through its wounds, mourning the lost blood of the exiled and the dead and also those who simply shrugged and flew away, but also stronger for its wounds, mature, tenacious, wiser about what it can withstand, with a heart that beats and people who pulse through its pathways.” She could be speaking of her characters who also mature with their hearts joyfully beating despite their wounds.

In many ways, this is a love song to Uruguay: “El Rio de la Plata’s curving motion a woman weeping against a balcony rail, the red aroma of beef roasting at las brasas at the corner bar…Montevideo’s sleepy beauties and its daily return into her skin.” In equally powerful ways, it’s a celebration of women, particularly mother-daughter relationships and how they evolve and endure.

If there is a flaw in this novel, it is in the depiction of the male characters. The author was, at one time, a rape crisis counselor; perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the vast majority of men are depicted as abusive, inebriated, unfaithful, and downright violent. There is one notable exception, but that character’s story is told inorganically; from both an economic and psychological perspective, the character’s decision – and the results stemming from that decision – would be highly unlikely in the real world.

But as I closed the pages, I was left with the feeling that this multi-generational saga is assuredly destined to stand among the finest debut works, with a tone that is often elegiac and a theme that is truly of the ages.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 40 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; 1 Reprint edition (August 10, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Carolina de Robertis
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Classic Latin American Magical Realism:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo


October 9, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Debut Novel, Facing History, Latin American/Caribbean, Reading Guide, South America

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