- Reviewed by
A worthy sequel to Magnarelli's important 1985 study, The Lost Rib (which examined female characters in the Spanish American novel since the nineteenth century) is Reflections/Refractions, a thoughtful, in-depth examination of the fiction of Argentine Luisa Valenzuela. By following three principal thematic preoccupations (women, language, and politics) throughout Valenzuela's novels and short stories, Magnarelli manages to create an elegantly coherent reading of the fictional corpus but at the same time to leave the ending open, inviting further dialogue, rather than insisting on any kind of oppressive dominance of her particular views. In short, it is just the sort of criticism that the works of a writer like Valenzuela—so concerned about language as a possible tool for oppression—deserves.
Whether she is explaining how Valenzuela's texts continually undermine our social and political myths or how they attempt to free language and women from the shackles society imposes, Magnarelli writes with ease and has a gift for following [End Page 778] the nuances of the texts she examines. From clarifying the ironies inherent in the title of Libra que no muerae to showing us at once five equally valid ways of reading "Cuarta versión," Magnarelli unerringly brings insights that enhance our reading of Valenzuela and helps us to avoid the self-censorship of which the Argentine eloquendy speaks—that is, refusing to read works that we fear will depress us, even though we know them to be good. Magnarelli clearly understands that what we comprehend and then articulate becomes less frightening, even when harsh truths are involved.
In a study that focuses so closely on the nature of language, Magnarelli encounters a peculiar handicap when it comes to presenting her quoted evidence in both the original Spanish and also in English translation. The difficulty is that the translations (prepared by a variety of translators), evidently in an attempt to give a rendition more "poetic" than "literal," more often than not lose that particular subtlety that Magnarelli has taken such pains to point out to us. Moreover, in a number of significant passages, Magnarelli is forced to tell us that the official translation simply omits the key phrase. Her own translations, supplied where none was available, seemed to me invariably better, at least of short passages, admittedly out of context, as they took greater pains to preserve the original intent. For the purposes of translation, Valenzuela's work must clearly be viewed as poetic, with all the difficulties that implies.
As far as her own gift for metaphor goes, Magnarelli is talented, as her explanation of the "denatured discourse" of Chapter Eight shows, and if a comparison occasionally gets away from her—as when she compares Cambio de armas to a symphony with five movements, with each narrative being a movement, and with "Ceremonieas de rechazo" being the crescendo movement (a crescendo of course is a musical dynamic that calls for increase in volume and appears with great frequency in most movements of any symphony or any other musician composition)—it is the exception, not the rule. Other nits to be picked are that the type is hard to read, and that a note at the beginning of the appendixed interview/forum explaining that it took place in 1981 would have been appropriate to let readers decide for themselves if some of the opinions expressed are dated. The decision to include the interview, nevertheless, is amply supported by the universal nature of most of what Valenzuela discusses there with regard to censorship.
Nits aside, however, the book represents years of patient, thoughtful study of Valenzuela's works and should be required reading for any of the Argentine's scholars. One hopes that it truly succeeds in stimulating the kind of exchange of ideas that it invites.
As Norman Lavers states...