restricted access Knives and Angels: Women Writers in Latin America, and: Women's Voice in Latin American Literature, and: Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende (review)
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Reviewed by
Susan Bassnett, ed. Knives and Angels: Women Writers in Latin America. London: Zed, 1990. 202 pp. $49.95 cloth; pb. $15.00.
Naomi Lindstrom. Women's Voice in Latin American Literature. Washington: Three Continents, 1989. 159 p. $26.00 cl; pb $16.00.
Patricia Hart. Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende. Cranbury: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1989. 196 pp. $34.50.

An eclectic group of essays, Knives and Angels: Women Writers in Latin America "redevises" the map of Latin American creativity to include women and acknowledge the long line of gifted women, descended from Sor Juana, whose works are marked by "violence and sensuality, terror and feeling, the disgusting and the beautiful, knives and angels." Contrary to the subtitle of the collection, the creative women discussed in the thirteen essays are not limited to writers but rather include filmmakers and one woman (Victoria Ocampo) perhaps better known as a publisher and cultural patron than as a writer. The quality and intent of the essays varies: some aim to provide an historical overview or personal insight into the life of the woman; others proffer sophisticated analyses of works. Most include useful bibliographies.

Of particular note are the essays by Furnival, Díaz-Diocaretz, Bruce-Novoa, Ordóñez, and Boyle. Furnival analyzes Rosario Castellanos's stories as representations of society's juxtaposition of reality and myth that is sustained by the process of naturalization (the discourse of common sense). Such a juxtaposition produces the complex web of power relations that constitute patriarchal systems and the asymmetrical relations between the sexes. Continuing along similar theoretical lines in her essay on women poets, Díaz-Diocaretz notes, "the subject position in the poetics of the lyric by women is a conjunction of the speaker(s) and the world vision(s) in complex webs of overt or covert relationships in which the poet is evaluating the world of reality which has formed her and which she has chosen to represent textually." Although Díaz-Diocaretz does not assume that all women poets resist patriarchy, she finds a shared (but ever evolving) continuity of intertextuality. Defining "woman's voice" as "a distinctive set of discursive strategies [determined by the poet's subject positions] rather than a biologically determined characteristic," she concludes that the contemporary poets she discusses "develop and potentialize what could be called a woman's register, against the modality of the practice of writing and the semantic domain of hegemonic and patriarchal subject matters."

Bruce-Novoa reads Poniatowska's works as an attempt to present the voice of the oppressed that, when not silenced by the dominant group, may express itself in the language and forms of that group and reflect its interiorization of a repressive ideology. For him, Poniatowska's first-person narratives (where women speak) are a complex play of the "apparently sincere text of the narrator, who to some extent incarnates the ideologemes of the dominant culture, and the ironic subtext of the feminist author, who infiltrates the character's monologue to subvert [End Page 284] it and, in the end, transform it into a dialogical space." Applying these generalizations to Querido Diego, te abraza Quiela, he convincingly concludes that the author's strategy was "to create a text and simultaneously undermine it with contradictions that her character Beloff lives, expresses within her written communiqués, but does not consciously confront."

Ordóñez considers three Colombian women writers from the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Soledad Acosta, Elisa Mujica, and Marvel Moreno, who have been omitted from the Colombian literary history that "com[es] from and [is] geared to a world of exclusively masculine values." Boyle studies the works of Argentine dramatist, Griselda Gambaro, whose theatre is fraught with constant friction between what we see and what we hear: "the words that tell us that violence exists and the words that deny its existence are both revealed as barriers to our awareness of the violence around us."

Less ambitious in its scope, Women's Voice studies the works of four Latin American novelists (Clarice Lispector, Rosario Castellanos, Marta Lynch, and Silvina Bullrich) and "their utilization of the illustrative and persuasive powers of literature to examine critically...


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