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Reviewed by:
  • Acts of Narrative Resistance: Women’s Autobiographical Writings in the Americas
  • Joanna R. Bartow (bio)
Laura J. Beard. Acts of Narrative Resistance: Women’s Autobiographical Writings in the Americas. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2009. 199 pp. ISBN 978-0813928630, $21.50.

Western feminist theory has long taught us the personal is political and that autobiographical narration of the self can empower women and question dominant, male-centered ideologies of identity. The collective import of a personal life story exists through this empowerment, and fictive elements can highlight an autobiography’s usefulness as political tool by making it both intimate and more than a personal story. In Acts of Narrative Resistance, Laura J. Beard examines fictionalized autobiographical genres “created at the nexus of political discourse and artistic practice” (1). Storytelling comes to be of particular significance at this political and artistic nexus as Beard’s study progresses from Latin American texts focusing on the construction of self, to Latin American family sagas that construct the nation, to Native American testimonios from Canada. In the final chapter, Beard quotes a Native American critic to point out that Indigenous traditions use storytelling, rather than exposition, to explain ideas. Thus, the author links texts that fictionalize autobiography to a non-hegemonic perspective. She analyzes these texts as generic and discursive acts of resistance that complicate easy classification within the conventions of “traditional, male-authored, Euro-American autobiography” (2).

Beard studies a heterogenous body of texts, explaining that she wishes to open discussion to less heard voices, and recognizing that not all women’s auto biographical texts have been equally privileged. As she herself says, the combination is ambitious, but although the conclusion could be developed more to draw out the points of contact, the introduction to each part of the book describes commonalities, and the three parts work both separately and as a whole. She does not try to erase the various texts’ differences nor the diversity of experiences they describe, nor impose one all-encompassing generalization or critical approach. Feminist theories of autobiography, theory on Latin American testimonio, poststructuralist theory, and theory on Native American writing inform her analysis, but Beard bases her theoretical approach to each text on its own metatextual characteristics. The last section on two Native American women writers of Canada might appear an odd addition to two sections on non-Indigenous Latin American authors, but Beard makes a case for their inclusion through shared autobiographical strategies to negotiate imposed subjectivities and the ideologies behind those discourses. In fact, after reading the third section of the book, the links among the texts in the second and third sections stand out as strongly as those with the first section. Moreover, the inclusion of Indigenous Canada makes this book a contribution to the field of Inter-American studies. Most of the writing studied [End Page 358] in all three sections shares several important elements: the role of names in the construction of identity, the existence of plural or fragmented identities, contradictions that question official truths and dominant ideologies, and auto biographical writing as a vehicle for a contestatory reconstruction of individual, collective, and national identity.

Each of the three sections includes two chapters, each on a different author and focusing principally on one of the author’s texts. Part One on auto biographical metafiction includes a chapter on Brazilian Helena Parente Cunha’s Woman between Mirrors and a second on Argentine Luisa Futoransky’s Son cuentos chinos and De Pe a Pa (o de Pekín a París). In Part Two on fictionalized, autobiographical family sagas that also become stories of the nation, the first chapter analyzes Argentine Ana María Shua’s The Book of Memories, followed by a chapter on Brazilian Nélida Piñon’s The Republic of Dreams. Parente Cunha is Bahian with possible African ancestry, and Piñon is of Galician ancestry. Both Futoransky and Shua are Argentine Jews, with Futoransky writing in exile. Beard notes these biographical characteristics as relevant to each author’s resistance to a coherent, unified representation of identity within autobiographical discourse, leading each to reinterpret her identity. Here lies a key connection with Part Three, where Beard examines...