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NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) 175-179

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Women in Argentina: Early Travel Narratives by Mónica Szurmuk. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001, 145 pp., $55.00 hardcover.
Women at Sea: Travel Writing and the Margins of Caribbean Discourse edited by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Ivette Romero-Cesareo. New York: Palgrave, 2002, 301 pp., $55.00 hardcover.
In Praise of New Travelers: Reading Caribbean Migrant Women's Writing by Isabel Hoving. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001, 374 pp., $55.00 hardcover, $22.95 paper.

In recent years, travel writing, once considered a minor genre, has been the subject of increased critical attention. Critics have focused on the ways in which travel narratives serve both to construct and to destabilize notions of identity at the individual, regional, and national levels. As the books under consideration here show, travel narratives produced by Caribbean and Latin American women writers in particular, demonstrate the malleability of subject positions, as the women travelers interrogate their shifting roles vis-à-vis the metropolis as well as male-dominated writing traditions.

In Women in Argentina: Early Travel Narratives, Mónica Szurmuk uses women's travel narratives from 1837 to 1930 in order to "[include] the alternative narratives of subaltern groups" in the story of the nation (2). Her argument is that travel writers construct two distinct communities, the first a community of readers who share the author's world view, the second a community of Others who are to be described for those read-ers. She analyzes travelogues by European and North American women traveling to Argentina alongside narratives by Argentine women traveling within their country and abroad. Such narratives explore racial difference by examining both the space of the frontier, populated by what nineteenth-century Argentines perceived to be savage natives--who had [End Page 175] to be controlled at best, exterminated at worst--and the space of the city, namely Buenos Aires, and its rapidly growing immigrant population. Szurmuk asserts that the privileged white women she studies "create a sense of sisterhood between white and indigenous women" as well as with "male subalterns such as gauchos and Indian men" (10).

Women in Argentina is divided into three main sections. The first, "Frontier Identities, 1837-1880," examines works by Mariquita Sánchez and the Alsatian writer Lina Beck-Bernard. Szurmuk argues that both texts construct modernity on the basis of white privilege at the same time that they implicitly or explicitly question the marginalization of Indians and gauchos who represent Argentina's backward elements. Sánchez and Beck-Bernard also strive to acquire and wield authorial power, in Sánchez's case by manipulating accepted notions of femininity and domesticity, in Beck-Bernard's by insistently presenting herself as an observer in stark contrast to her husband, who was actively engaged in encouraging the modernizing project through immigration. In part two, "Shifting Frontiers, 1880-1900," Szurmuk analyzes works by Eduarda Mansilla de García, British aristocrat Florence Dixie, and North American schoolteacher Jennie Howard. Mansilla and Dixie describe journeys among the Indians of Patagonia; but while Mansilla critiques the governmental policies of native genocide, Dixie does not place her travel narrative into a political context. This seems to me to be a moment where Szurmuk could explore the dynamics of travel narratives in the construction of national identity, but the contrast between Mansilla's and Dixie's texts is not exploited. Nor does Szurmuk take up Mansilla's and Dixie's prominent themes of Otherness in her exploration of Howard's narrative, the concluding piece in this section. The final section, "Shifting Identities, 1900-1930," analyzes a novel by Emma de la Barra and nonfictional works by Cecilia Grierson, Ada María Elflein, and Delfina Bunge de Gálvez. Szurmuk contrasts these works with the earlier texts, pointing out that they focus on opening public and professional spaces for women.

Despite Szurmuk's initial emphasis on the ways in which travelogues create communities of readers...


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