When it comes to translated literature, independent publisher Charco Press is the new kid on the block. But if the quality output it has churned out so far is anything to go by, one can safely say it is a publishing house worth watching out for.
Charco Press’ mission? To find outstanding contemporary Latin American literature and bring it to new readers in the English-speaking world.
And with this, I decided to try out one of their earlier releases – Die, My Love. This novel has already garnered rave reviews and shortlisted for book prizes and I am only happy to add to the praise.
So here goes…
Just like the eye-catching title Die, My Love is a raw, visceral tale of a woman struggling to adapt to motherhood and instead yearning for freedom.
But first, if you look at the author profile on the flap of the book, this is what it says:
Compared to Nathalie Sarraute and Virginia Woolf, Ariana Harwicz is one of the most radical figures in contemporary Argentinian literature. Her prose is characterized by its violence, eroticism, irony and criticism of the clichés surrounding the notions of the family and conventional relationships.
It is apparent in this novel too; from the opening lines which hit you right in the gut…
I lay back in the grass among fallen trees and the sun on my palm felt like a knife I could use to bleed myself dry with one swift cut to the jugular. Behind me, against the backdrop of a house somewhere between dilapidated and homely, I could hear the voices of my son and my husband. Both of them naked. Both of them splashing around in the blue paddling pool…I was a few steps away, hidden in the underbrush. Spying on them. How could a weak, perverse woman like me, someone who dreams of a knife in her hand, be the mother and wife of those two individuals?
Society assumes that every woman wants to be a mother or that motherhood naturally comes to every woman. But that does not necessarily have to be the case.
In the novel, the narrator is unnamed and we learn that becoming a mother was not something that she chose; rather motherhood was thrust upon her. And it is a role she struggles to conform to.
The tale is set in the bucolic French countryside although the exact location is not named. She feels like a foreigner in her surroundings and her erratic behavior only heightens her sense of not exactly fitting in.
Her role as a housewife bores her, and motherhood to her is a chore. Not only does she not want to embrace the responsibilities of being a mother, she also feels she is incapable of it.
She feels trapped and stifled, detesting conventional norms she feels forced to adhere to, dying to break out. But where will she run?
And if I want to leave my baby in the car when it’s forty degrees out with the heat index, I will. And don’t tell me it’s illegal. If I want to opt for illegality, if I want to become one of those women who go around freezing their fetuses, then I will. If I want to spend twenty years in jail or go on the run, then I won’t rule those possibilities out either.
But Harwicz’s protagonist does not withdraw into a shell. Rather, she is filled with rage and directs her violence outside.
They’ve been treating my cuts for several days now. I can’t see my whole body, but I’ve gotten them all over: on my shoulder blades, my chest, my belly, my neck.
Not content in the house, with a feeling of the walls closing in around her, most of the time she is outdoors, the vast expanse brimming with possibilities.
Then there is her husband. She does not have a high opinion of him either and finds faults in his actions. Though interestingly, the husband does not really abandon her despite their fights and puts up with her moods.
We’re one of those couples who mechanise the word ‘love’, who use it even when they despise each other.
And sometimes she wonders why…
So many healthy and beautiful women in the area, and he ended up falling for me. A nutcase. A foreigner. Someone beyond repair.
In all of this chaos, a mysterious motorcyclist emerges on the scene and embarks on an affair with the woman. Is this her way of craving for excitement?
Spellbound by a woman who wears flared skirts and spends her afternoons sprawled out like an amphibian on her lawn. I see her for as long as the slowest speed of my motorcycle allows. Those few fatal seconds. I think about her and heave with desire.
How is all of this going to turn out?
At 122 pages in the Charco Press edition Die, My Love is a short book that packs quite a punch. There is no plot per se and the drama is all internal. And even then, there is no real action in the traditional sense in the woman’s domestic surroundings – the action is all in her head; it’s her mind that’s all over the place.
Therefore, what makes this novel so unique is the narrative voice. It’s angry, violent, intense and scathing. The language is akin to a knife piercing your skin – provocative, and confrontational. And yet there is a poetic and lyrical feel to it too.
On one level, you could interpret this novel as an examination of postpartum depression, although that is just an inference and never explicitly stated.
Overall, Die, My Love is an immersive and rewarding experience, and not a novel one will forget anytime soon.
Indeed, as far as Harwicz’ writing is concerned, the blurb at the back of the book could not have put it better:
In a text that explores the destabilizing effect of passion and its absence, immersed in the psyche of a female protagonist always on the verge of madness, Harwicz moulds language, submitting it to her will in irreverent prose.
And that is why credit must also go Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff for superbly translating it.