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  • Women's Writing in Colombia: An Alternative Historyby Cherilyn Elston
  • Gina Ponce de León
WOMEN'S WRITING IN COLOMBIA: AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, by Cherilyn Elston. Breaking Feminist Waves. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 242 pp. $109.99 cloth; $84.99 ebook.

Cherilyn Elston's Women's Writing in Colombia: An Alternative Historyis based on significant research in the historical context of Colombian feminism, which connects cultural and political events with feminist writers' productions. In this ambitious study, analysis is situated within historical parameters to help the reader comprehend the persistent alienation of Colombian women from the canon. Elston argues that feminism is not an imported theory but a direct product of the conflictive context of Colombian reality. So-called second-wave feminism did not belatedly arrive in Colombia from the West but emerged due to women's activism and dissatisfaction with Marxism and policies of the Left in the 1960s and 1970s.

Elston's study is thoroughly grounded in the work of recognized scholars, critics, and experts on the topic, such as the well-known Colombianist Raymond L. Williams and the Latin American literary critics Jean Franco and Robert Schwarz, among other prominent thinkers. Based in these significant theoretical backgrounds, Elston examines the "emergence and disappearance" of Latin American women writers, namely, the history of the narrative that surrounds the Latin American Boom (1960s and 1970s) and post-Boom (since the 1980s), which often erases the literary production of many women writers (p. 7). Throughout seven chapters, Elston analyzes the work of specific Colombian feminist writers, including fictional narrative, poetry, and testimony. The book also functions as a survey of Latin American women writers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Elston declares the book's subject to be "women's writing and its relationship to feminist history in Colombia from the 1970s to the present" (p. 1). In her first two chapters, Elston argues that the first writer to disrupt [End Page 463]Latin American literary history was Albalucía Ángel. Her novel Estaba la pájara pinta sentada en el verde limón(1975; The colored bird was sitting on the lime tree) was published before the official recognition of the boom femenino(female boom) in the 1980s and "links not only to the left-wing origins … but, like feminism itself, is caught between modern and postmodern paradigms" (p. 30). Elston describes how Ángel's success was portrayed in the newspaper El Espectadorwhen she won the Vivencias Prize for her novel. The undermining criticism represented the usual attitude toward women writers not included in the canon. She states that Ángel, "like many other women writers … is strangely both excluded/included in the Colombian and Latin American literary canon" (p. 42).

Elston discusses Ángel's novel as a postmodern historical fiction built upon the time of La Violencia, the Colombian civil war that lasted from 1948-58. Elston's argument that "this historical world … refers not to the 'world' in itself but to its discourses" makes a strong case for the postmodern characteristics of this controversial narrative (p. 47). The novel's provocative elaboration, following Elston's argument that there is "questioning of historical truth in the novel," is the cause of its obscurity (p. 47). The second chapter ends with Elston's proposition that "by analysing writers who have not been included … in the canonized boom femeninowe can uncover alternative histories of women's writing, which reveal how they engage in complex ways with theories of modernity" (p. 67).

In chapter three, Elston turns her attention to Marvel Moreno, one of the most important Colombian writers of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, she is not included in the Latin American literary canon. Moreno's work is critical of the patriarchal society in which she was embedded as a writer. The chapter analyses En diciembre llegaban las brisas(1987; The breezes arrived in December), which "attempts to vindicate female eroticism and sexuality" (p. 79). Moreno's work belongs to the mid-twentieth century, but her narrative can be characterized as postmodern. Elston situates historical moments as background to Moreno's novel, for example, "the foundational debates in the work of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento...


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pp. 463-465
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