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Women and Power in Argentine Literature

Women and Power in Argentine Literature
Stories, Interviews, and Critical Essays

A collection of fiction, interviews, and critical essays analyzing fifteen Argentine women writers whose work reflects the pervasive theme of power in Argentine life.

Series: Texas Pan American Literature in Translation Series, Danny Anderson, series editor

March 2007
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392 pages | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 15 b&w photos |

The astonishing talent of Argentine women writers belies the struggles they have faced—not merely as overlooked authors, but as women of conviction facing oppression. The patriarchal pressures of the Perón years, the terror of the Dirty War, and, more recently, the economic collapse that gripped the nation in 2001 created such repressive conditions that some writers, such as Luisa Valenzuela, left the country for long periods. Not surprisingly, power has become an inescapable theme in Argentine women's fiction, and this collection shows how the dynamics of power capture not only the political world but also the personal one. Whether their characters are politicians and peasants, torturers and victims, parents and children, or lovers male and female, each writer explores the effects of power as it is exercised by or against women.

The fifteen writers chosen for Women and Power in Argentine Literature include famous names such as Valenzuela, as well as authors anthologized for the first time, most notably María Kodama, widow of Jorge Luis Borges. Each chapter begins with a "verbal portrait," editor Gwendolyn Díaz's personal impression of the author at ease, formed through hours of conversation and interviews. A biographical essay and critical commentary follow, with emphasis on the work included in this anthology. Díaz's interviews, translated from Spanish, and finally the stories themselves—only three of which have been previously published in English—complete the chapters. The extraordinary depth of these chapters reflects the nuanced, often controversial portrayals of power observed by Argentine women writers. Inspiring as well as insightful, Women and Power in Argentine Literature is ultimately about women who, in Díaz's words, "choose to speak their truth regardless of the consequences."

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Elvira Orphée
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Elvira Orphée
    • "Justice Shall Be Done"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Two: Angélica Gorodischer
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Angélica Gorodischer
    • "How to Succeed in Life"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Three: Marcela Solá
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Marcela Solá
    • "Natural Paradises"
    • Kind's Silence (Excerpt from El silencio de Kind)
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Four: Luisa Valenzuela
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Luisa Valenzuela
    • "Tango"
    • "The Key"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Five: Tununa Mercado
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with the Tununa Mercado
    • "Combatant Love"
    • "Delirious Love"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Six: Alicia Dujovne Ortiz
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Elvira Alicia Dujovne Ortiz
    • "The Blond Madonna" (Excerpt from Eva Perón: A Biography)
    • "White, Black, Red" (Excerpt from Eva Perón: A Biography)
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Seven: Liliana Heer
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Liliana Heer
    • "Red Summer"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Eight: Liliana Heker
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Liliana Heker
    • "They Live Far Away"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Nine: Alina Diaconú
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Alina Diaconú
    • "The Evil Eye"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Ten: María Kodama
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with María Kodama
    • "Leonor"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Eleven: Cristina Siscar
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Cristina Siscar
    • "Hoop, Thread, and Canvas"
    • "The Bra"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Twelve: Ana María Shua
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Ana María Shua
    • "The Spinal Column"
    • Death as a Side Effect (Excerpt from La muerte como efecto secundario)
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Thirteen: Alicia Kozameh
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Alicia Kozameh
    • "Impression of Heights"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Fourteen: Esther Cross
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Esther Cross
    • "The Recipe"
    • "Appearances"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Chapter Fifteen: Ana Quiroga
    • The Author and Her Work
    • Conversation with Ana Quiroga
    • "A Little Bit Farther"
    • Publications and Translations
  • Index

Gwendolyn Díaz is Professor of English and Director of the Graduate Program in Literature at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas.


When considering the topic of Argentine women, particularly as it relates to power, the image of Eva Perón is inescapable. The poor, illegitimate girl from the provincial countryside not only became, while still in her twenties, the First Lady of Argentina (then the breadbasket of the Americas and Europe), she ultimately became a myth so enduring that Andrew Lloyd Weber took her story to Broadway and Madonna to the Hollywood screen. She still remains a polarizing figure in Argentina, where she is simultaneously considered a saint by some and an avaricious prostitute by others. Her character and relevance are debated by historians, biographers, and authors who portray her in their works. One quality that all agree upon is that she was an immensely powerful woman who had an extraordinary hold on the Argentine people. I begin this book evoking her image not only because of her status as a powerful Argentine woman, but also because of the legacy of Peronism that continues to dominate the social, political, and national character of Argentina and, in turn, its culture and literature.

In Argentina, like in much of Latin America, as noted by Jean Franco and others, the socio-political landscape becomes the backdrop and often the theme of much of the country's literature. While Domingo Sarmiento's Facundo (1845) debates the future of Argentina in terms of civilization versus barbarism, and Miguel Hernandez's Martín Fierro (1872) depicts the plight of the gaucho, or cattle-hand, in the pampas (grasslands), others, like Roberto Arlt in Los sietes locos (1929) and El lanzallamas (1931), explore complex socio-political dilemmas of the Buenos Aires metropolis. Many of the Boom writers (a term coined to capture the breadth and quality of literature produced in Latin America in the 1950s through 1970s), like Julio Cortázar (Rayuela, 1963, and El libro de Manuel, 1973) for example, combine their political concerns with their thirst for aesthetic experimentation. Jorge Luis Borges is considered an exception to this emphasis on socio-political themes, though some of his stories have been read as critiques of power, and particularly of Peronism, with which he was personally very much at odds.

Argentina has been among the leaders in Latin America in the number of women authors produced in the twentieth century, a fact that Donald Yates (Contemporary Latin American Literature) attributes to the Perón years, when women launched themselves into writing either to expose or to explain the effects of Peronism on Argentine society and politics. In the 1940s, for example, Victoria Ocampo, the grande dame of Argentine letters and founder of the celebrated journal Sur, was persecuted by the Peróns because of her status as a member of the elite. A vehement anti-Peronist, she was one of the first Argentine women writers who was outspoken about her political views and her admiration for feminist writers. She believed that the Latin American woman was doubly alienated as a woman and as a Latin American. In the 1950s, Beatriz Guido wrote about the fall of the landed gentry leading up to the time of Juan Perón, and in the 1960s, Marta Lynch was one of many who depicted the Peronist movement as content and context within which her novels evolved.

The structuring principal of this collection is the theme of women and power, as manifested through a character that exercises some form of power within a given situation or, conversely, is subjected to it. Power and domination are issues that have preoccupied Latin American women writers since the time of the conquest and the generalas (women warriors who commanded soldiers in the wars for independence), and of the various revolutions of countries like Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, and others. The problems of power and domination surface not only within the political arena, however; they also filter into the fiber of Latin American society, into the family and the social relationships that tend to be structured according to a patriarchal scheme of authoritarianism. In Argentina, politics, power, and social relations (marriage, family, church, etc.) have always been closely linked. This was particularly true during Juan and Eva Perón's regime of the 1940s and 1950s, when the relationship between Eva and Juan became a metaphor for the relationship of the Argentine people to the patriarchal populist leader who ruled the nation for two terms. Evita's public role of devout admirer and fervent servant of her husband and president, General Juan Perón, was to be an example of the blind trust and reverent obedience that the Argentine people should have for their leader. As a couple, they epitomized not only the power of the president over his people, but also the power of the presumably protective husband over his devoted wife. This strategic political metaphor surfaced again in the more recent Argentine history of the 1970s and 1980s, when the military coup that installed General Jorge Videla as president initiated a regime of terror and repression known as the Guerra sucia, or Dirty War. The mechanisms of censorship and repression that Videla and his followers enforced had, in effect, already been put in place when Perón, also a general and backed by the military, was in office. Again the Argentine people fell prey to the metaphor of the powerful military general who, like a strict father, was to take the welfare of his people in his hands, even if by forceful means. This time the metaphor propogated a new image, that of disease, interestingly the same disease that took Evita's life, cancer. The metaphor compared the leftist agenda to a threat that was spreading "like a cancer" and would ultimately be the death of the country; thus, it was deemed necessary for the powerful generals to eradicate the threat by any means possible.

During the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, the country was immersed in what was essentially a civil war. The players were the leftist ideologues and revolutionaries, many of whom had organized in cells and resorted to bombings and kidnappings to further their cause. On the other side were the right-wing conservatives, represented by the military and backed by the United States through the Central Intelligence Agency, who placed the country under a state of siege and institutionalized mass repression in order to preserve the status quo and keep the political and economic power in the hands of the elite. Many of the military officers who engineered the Dirty War were trained in the infamous School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Repression took a new form in Argentina, that of a question mark, the invisible phantom of the desaparecidos, or disappeared persons, which still haunts the country. Along with the revolutionaries organized into movements (the Montoneros, the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo, the Partido Revolucionario de Trabajadores, and others), who resorted to violence for political change, many innocent victims, some high-school-age children, university students, journalists, authors, intellectuals, and others, were tortured and murdered without being accounted for. This gave rise to the specter of the desaparecidos (some 20,000 to 30,000 missing people, it is speculated), victims who were buried in mass graves or dropped from a helicopter with feet in a bucket of concrete into the Río de la Plata. As Fernando Reati notes, disappearance was a fate worse than death, because it deprived the survivors of the rituals of death: the funeral, the burial, the control over the destiny of the body, and the acceptance of finality (Nombrar lo innombrable: Violencia política y novela argentina, 1975-1985 [To Speak the Unspeakable: Political Violence and the Argentine Novel, 1975-1985, published 1992]).

Events such as these and the consequences suffered by the Argentine people fueled the creative minds of the women authors who often chose to write about the power struggles in politics and their effects on society, the individual, and particularly the female. They lived daily in an atmosphere of fear and danger and were often witness to atrocities not only in the political scenario, but within the home as well, where many husbands, wives, and children became victims. All of the authors in this collection have been affected by the scenario of repression, and in some fashion they integrate it into their works. Though only a few of them focus specifically on the repression, they all make direct or oblique reference to it. In the case of the two younger writers, Esther Cross and Ana Quiroga, their focus is on the consequences of the repression and its new version, that of economic oppression. The Dirty War ended in disappointment for both the left and the right. Years of political struggle led to economic instability. At the same time, globalization and export/import tariffs took a toll on the production, employment, and overall economy of Argentina. Hence, the works of Cross, Quiroga, and others like Ana María Shua and Liliana Heker, delve into the current socio-economic crisis, where power takes the shape of the bottom line.

The topic of power and its relationship to the subject—and more particularly, to the female subject—has been in the forefront of academic debate since Foucault's work on knowledge, power, and the body in the early 1970s. Though he is by no means the originator of the debate, his books Discipline and Punish (1975), The History of Sexuality (1975), and Power/Knowledge (1980) have been a turning point in the critique of power. At the same time, Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst who rethought Freud, was developing his theories on language and its symbolic organization of society, and postmodernist thought brought the political issue into the mainstream of art, literature, and language. Feminist criticism has placed this debate within the context of gender and produced a wealth of knowledge emanating from the female experience. Part of the feminist debate has been about the materiality of language, about whether language intertwines the mind and body in a concrete way. If language is embodied, then it binds the body together with our views of power, morality, politics, gender, and the entire social organization. Catherine Hobbs Peaden undertakes an insightful analysis of John Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding," where she notes how Locke sets out to devalue what he calls suppressed "feminine" discourse and opposes it to what he considers the superior "masculine" discourse, characterized as plain, clear, and rational ("Understanding Differently: Re-reading Locke's 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding,'" 1992). Peaden concludes that rhetoric such as Locke's has materialized in women's bodies and constructed them as lacking and irrational entities. She laments that we still live within the norms and practices created by views such as Locke's, and suggests that new readings of the female body and the rhetoric and history that describe it must be undertaken. She reasons that this will happen when women's own writing and rhetoric produce new readings of the female body and its social nexus. This is precisely what feminism has been doing in theoretical discourse and what women authors have been doing in literature.

What feminists find interesting about Foucault's study of power is that he separates power itself from the possessor of power and views it as a tool of control rather than the right of a sovereign. He says that power is exercised rather than possessed and is unstable, for it can be subject to an inversion of power relations (Discipline and Punish). He develops a historical account of how the body has been molded, manipulated, and conceptualized as the site in which power and knowledge are inscribed and exert their control. Like a text, the body reveals the dynamics of power within a given social structure. The female body, in particular, has been the target of social control and manipulation by patriarchal interests. Foucault notes that sexuality, based on the model act of penetration, has been socially constructed as an uneven relationship between a superior and a subordinate, a dominator and a dominated (History of Sexuality). In such a structure of rivalry, the active role has been privileged over the passive one, thus relegating the female to a subservient position. This social metaphor is questioned by Foucault as well as by feminists and many postmodern thinkers, who see the rivalry in terms of the power of language to symbolically construct a social order that privileges the male and undermines the female.

The premises of Foucault's work have been critiqued by both the psychoanalytic feminists and the materialist feminists, for different reasons. In their re-reading of power constructs, the psychoanalytic feminists point out that the dominant social structure overvalues the role of the father in gender formation while it undervalues the role of the mother. Their goal is to invert this bias and privilege the maternal influence in gender formation. The materialist feminists discredit their psychoanalytic counterparts for essentializing the body and disregarding the importance of the political organization of society in gender identity. To the materialist feminists, Foucault's analysis presents many useful insights but suffers from a lack of sensitivity to gender. Postmodernist thinker Jean Baudrillard goes so far as to say that power does not exist ("Forgetting Foucault," Humanities in Society, 1980) because it is a simulation, a simulacrum that undergoes a metamorphosis into signs and is invented on the basis of signs. He contends that power is imagined by the perceiver and that someone or something has led to this perception of power. This suggests that power can be deconstructed by a shift in perception. Such a shift has begun to take place in the body of work by women writers and thinkers not only in Europe and the United States, but also in Latin America.

In Gender Trouble (1990), Judith Butler revisits Foucault's claim that sexuality and power are co-extensive while she critiques Foucault's views that sexuality is tied to domination. Butler reflects on how sexuality that emerges within the matrix of power relations is not a simple replication of the law; rather, power itself determines the function of sexual relations. She concludes that if sexuality is culturally constructed within existing power relations, it must be rethought within the context of power. She proposes the task of rethinking subversive possibilities for sexuality and identity within the terms of power itself without necessarily replicating structures of domination. Hence, an exploration of gender and sexuality within the framework of power is not an endorsement of patriarchal values, but rather an exploration of alternative dynamics of power.

Baudrillard's contention that power does not exist is obliquely echoed by Jean Franco, who contends that like in Borges' imaginary world of "Tlon," the patriarchy has perpetuated the hoax of the master, and women have had to enter the dialogue by resorting to plotting and subterfuge (Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico, 1989). Franco argues that although in Latin America, the feminist academic debate is still incipient, there are women writers and intellectuals who have furthered the cause of women in organic or proactive ways. The examples she gives of such organic intellectuals are the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Women's Movement of Chile, and Rigoberta Menchú in Guatemala. These are women and organizations that found ways to align gender and politics without subordinating either.

The status of a Latin American brand of feminist theory is discussed by Anny Brooksbank Jones and Catherine Davies (Latin American Women's Writing, 1996), who trace the origin of Latin American feminist theory to the 1980s, specifically the 1985 publication of La sartén por el mango (The Skillet by the Handle) by Patricia González and Eliana Ortega. They find that Sara Castro-Klarén's essay in that book is crucial in the evaluation of the relevance and lack of relevance of North American feminist criticism and French feminism to the specific case of Latin America. Castro-Klarén points out that in the 1980s, Latin American women were affirming not just their gender differences, but also their ethnic and socio-economic differences from middle-class Anglo-European feminists who proposed to speak on behalf of all women. In the 1990s, Debra Castillo found that Latin American feminism is best represented by its activism and saw a general bias in favor of a revolutionary course of action rather than a theoretical strategy of action (Talking Back: Toward Feminist Literary Criticism, 1992). Therefore, rather than lay out a poetics of Latin American feminism, Castillo proposed a series of strategies (a term borrowed from military vocabulary) through which Latin American literature and activism have expressed themselves. Borrowing from Josefina Ludmer's idea of the "feints" or "strategies" of the weak ("Las tretas del débil," in González and Ortega [1985]), Castillo explored six strategies of Latin American women writers: silence, appropriation, cultivation of superficiality, negation, marginality, and the subjunctive mood.

Closely tied to the revolutionary act, Latin American feminism has had to act first and theorize second. Castillo's study presents an insightful analysis of the social expectations of women in Latin American culture and makes a case for the difficulty women face when they act outside of the accepted social roles of virgin, mother, housewife, and matriarch. To transgress social respectability is to be disregarded or considered una loca, a mad or loose woman. In her article "Lesbian Cartographies: Body, Text and Geography" (Cultural and Historical Grounding for Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Feminist Literary Criticism, 1989), Amy Kaminsky ponders the question that many of us have asked before, that is, why do so many Latin American women writers disassociate themselves from feminism? Her answer echoes Castillo's point about the threat of deviating from traditional gender roles. She finds that feminism is often seen as a code for lesbianism, and that the penalties for professional women that reject the standard heterosexual social organization are grave in a society where male domination is still overt.

Like Franco, Castillo notes that for the poor woman in Latin America, who is concerned with feeding her children and averting dire conditions, feminism is a luxury. However, in most cases, Latin American women writers belong to the middle and upper classes, which are more likely to have the leisure time to write. That is the case for most of the writers in this anthology. More appropriate to this group of writers is Castillo's contention that for the Latin American woman, writing itself is a revolutionary act. This statement resonates clearly with the Argentine women authors interviewed for this book. After the deaths of authors Haroldo Conti and Rodolfo Walsh, murdered by the dictatorship because their fiction was critical of the government, those who chose to stay in the country and write did so knowing that their own lives were at risk. The impact of censorship and repression on the writers of this collection was varied. Elvira Orphée, for example, was detained in a police station during the Perón years because of her connection to the Ocampo family. She was married to Miguel Ocampo, nephew of Victoria and Silvina Ocampo, an aristocratic family at odds with the Perón regime. Orphée wrote her novel about torture, La última conquista de El Ángel (El Angel´s Last Conquest), drawing from the context of the Perón years, when repression for political control became institutionalized in Argentina.

While the early work of Angélica Gorodischer, Marcela Solá, and Luisa Valenzuela takes place within the context of the Perón years, most of their work reflects the time of the Proceso (Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, or Process of National Reorganization), a euphemism used by the military dictatorship for what later became known as the Dirty War. Valenzuela, in particular, was outspoken in her critique of the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, a fact that eventually led her to move to New York in order to write and publish freely. Tununa Mercado and her husband, critic Noé Jitrik, had to flee Argentina for political reasons, and consequently Mercado began writing about the themes of exile and memory. Alicia Dujovne Ortiz chose to move to Europe during that time because she did not want to live in an atmosphere of fear and censorship. She connected to her roots by writing about Argentine legends like Eva Perón, whose mystique she recreates in her imaginative biography of Evita, which is both critical and empathetic. Liliana Heer's literary work was influenced by her practice as a psychologist treating patients who were tortured, threatened, or related to someone who had been persecuted or disappeared. Her work often delves, though obliquely, into the psychology of violence and sexual exploitation. Liliana Heker wrote for and edited leftist literary journals, managing a balancing act between veiled critique and oversight of the dictatorship for fear of retaliation. She was involved in a debate with Julio Cortázar, who lived in Paris and accused the Argentine writers of not denouncing the government strongly enough. Heker accused him of not truly understanding the Argentine situation because he was and had been living abroad. This debate caused a divide between the authors who remained in the country and the authors who left. Ultimately, both perspectives provided a more complete view of what took place during those years. Alina Diaconú's novels cultivate metaphor and symbolism in order to critique the abuses of power she witnessed in both Romania and Argentina. Like the work of Diaconú, María Kodama's narratives are poetic and metaphorical. Few people know that María Kodama, the widow and life-long companion of Jorge Luis Borges, has authored short stories. In the story in this collection, she portrays the effects of societal neglect, another form of repression, on the young. In the interview for this anthology, Kodama refers to Borges' problems during the Perón regime and to the role the military dictatorship played in their lives during the years in which they traveled abroad, frequently finding themselves engaged in discussions about the Proceso. Cristina Siscar lost her husband when he became a desaparecido. She herself was threatened, forced to leave the country and go into exile abroad, leaving her son behind. Ana María Shua wrote and published extensively at the time, yet was careful about what she said and the topics she chose. Nevertheless, her novel Soy paciente (Patient) was considered by the dictatorship to be an indirect critique of their policies. Alicia Kozameh, a political activist, was imprisoned for three years because of her involvement with the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadors, or PRT (Workers' Revolutionary Party). During and after her imprisonment, writing became a way of coping with her situation. Eventually, thanks to the efforts of organizations like Amnesty International, she was released from prison. However, she continued to be threatened by the authorities and felt pressured to leave the country, ultimately taking asylum in California.

Esther Cross and Ana Quiroga belong to a younger generation of Argentine writers who did not have many memories of the dictatorship. In their works, the repression years loom as a menacing past. At the same time, the younger writers, particularly Cross and Quiroga, but also Shua and others, reflect in their more recent works a new form of repression that has taken hold of Argentina, an economic decline that has resulted from both globalization and ineffective government policies. The economic policies in the 1990s of President Carlos Menem, who aligned himself with the interests of the United States as well as the International Monetary Fund, resulted in privatization, deregulation, and an artificially inflated currency. This led to the 2001 crash of the Argentine economy, which ushered in significant increases in homelessness, unemployment, poverty, and crime. The more recent works reflect the effects of economic oppression on the Argentine social structure. For example, Ana María Shua's novel La muerte como efecto secundario (Death as a Side Effect) takes place in a not-too-distant future in a Buenos Aires reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Here the elderly are moved out of society and into nursing homes, crime is so rampant that all people have security guards, automobiles are bullet-proof and reinforced with steel, and food is scarce. According to Shua, such violence and deterioration are already present in our society today. Similarly, Esther Cross's film Los humillados y ofendidos (The Insulted and Injured) depicts this new kind of victim, economic rather than political. She documents the effects of the Argentine economic crisis of 2001, when the unemployment and poverty indices in Argentina rose to above 25 and 50 percent, respectively. This created a new class of poor that Cross calls the nuevos desaparecidos (new disappeared), in reference to the homeless families with no residence, hence no documents and no place in society. Finally, Ana Quiroga, the youngest author in the collection, who began to publish in the 2000s, depicts in her work how the political past has molded the current socio-economic exigencies of the Argentine middle class. In her fiction she reflects the new roles that younger women have chosen, both in the professional world and in personal and familial relationships.

Ester Gimbernat González contends that the Argentine women writers of the repression were driven to write because they wanted to bring to light the truth that had been obfuscated by the discourse of the totalitarian regime. She explains that much of women's writing of this time intended to subvert the official story or propaganda and give voice to that which censorship attempted to silence (Aventuras del desacuerdo: Novelistas argentinas de los 80, 1992). On the other hand, Fernando Reati's detailed analysis of violence in the Argentine novel of the Proceso posits whether it is feasible to truly represent the horror of violence in writing. He notes that the writers of the repression in Argentina find new strategies to name the unnamable, to put into words the inconceivable violence. One way in which they do this is by developing symbolic solutions to the conflicts of repression and authoritarianism. According to Reati, these works make conscious that which had previously been relegated to the unconscious (Nombrar lo innombrable: Violencia política y novela argentina, 1975-1985, published 1992). The literature of this period brings to light the horrors that the Argentine society dared not acknowledge openly at the time. Diane Taylor explains that eventually, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo took it upon themselves to give corporeality to the missing bodies of the desaparecidos by marching in front of the presidential palace with poster-sized photographs of their missing children (Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's "Dirty War," 1997). Like these photographs, the literature of the repression embodies within texts the effects and consequences of the abuses of power, whether social, political, or economic.

This collection of fiction and the detailed interviews with each author weave together a tapestry of topics that shed light on the last five decades of Argentine history and culture. It brings to light a social structure marked by domination as it surfaces in political, social, and gender relationships. The stories and excerpts of the collection expand the notion of power relationships and broaden it. They portray a preoccupation with power, its use and its abuse, not only in its political manifestations but also in relationships of a personal and intimate nature, thus revealing that the personal and the political are inextricably interwoven. They show how the dynamics of domination and subjugation, much as Hegel explained in his master-and-slave dichotomy, are transferred from one realm of the social structure to another, from the political to the personal and from the personal to the political. The power struggles represented in this volume surface in relationships between political leaders and the masses, torturers and their victims, repressive governments and the people, as well as in day-to-day relationships between parents and children, male and female lovers, teachers and students, and employers and employees. The interviews and stories in this book have been gathered with the specific purpose of voicing women's struggles against the power structures that determine social interaction. The collection offers the diverse perspectives of these Argentine women writers, keeping in mind that there is no feminine absolute, but rather a multiplicity of women's voices and experiences.

The scope of this critical anthology, though by no means exhaustive, is that of the last five decades of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first century. Though there are many other talented women writers who could have been included in this volume (Norah Langue, Silvina Ocampo, Silvina Bullrich, Luisa Mercedes Levinson, Beatriz Guido, Marta Lynch, Estela Canto, Marta Mercader, Marta Traba, Syria Poletti, Alicia Steimberg, Reina Roffé, Hebe Uhart, Cecilia Absatz, Susana Szwarc, Vlady Kociancich, Sylvia Iparraguirre, Susana Silvestre, and others), the selection was made with attention to the theme of power, broadly defined, to the type of power relationship the story or excerpt depicts, and to the aesthetic and formal merit of each piece, in an effort to include a broad array of topics and literary styles. The first author, Elvira Orphée, began publishing in the 1950s, when the Peróns were still in power. The majority of the writers that follow wrote during the time of the Dirty War. The more recent writers, such as Esther Cross, who began to publish in the 1990s, and Ana Quiroga, who began to publish in the 2000s, bring into their work the latest manifestation of power plays, that of social alienation brought about by the economic decline.

Each chapter begins with what I call a verbal portrait, a description that conveys my personal impressions of the author. After hours of conversation with each writer, conversations I sustained for a period of four years traveling frequently to Argentina, I came to know these women personally as they took me into their homes and shared with me their work, their passion, and their lives. Thus, I felt compelled to capture my impressions in these verbal portraits in order to go beyond the two-dimensional image of a photograph and peer into the inner, abstract qualities of each individual author. The verbal portrait is followed by a biographical essay that includes critical commentary on the author's main works, and particularly the stories or excerpts included in the collection. Next follows the interview with the author, which is of pivotal importance to this collection. The interviews are extensive as well as comprehensive and were specifically designed not only to create a personal view of the author, but also to provide a critical review of each writer's work, which takes place in the form of a conversation between the author and me, the interviewing critic. I conducted these interviews in Spanish and translated the tapes into English after I transcribed them. All of the interviews develop four parallel thematic threads that inform the focus of the collection: relationships of power, gender or feminist concerns, effects of the political scenario on the work, and aesthetic evaluation of the work. The author and the critic discuss the thematic threads of the collection and how each writer evolved from personal and anecdotal experience to the universal inquiries about human nature that surface in their work.

The next section presents the story, or in some cases an excerpt from a novel. Each story was selected because it represents a specific type of power relationship. In Chapter One, Elvira Orphée's story "Justice Shall Be Done" portrays a group of women from a provincial town who, angered by how violent acts are perpetrated on the innocent with impunity, take justice into their own hands, much like the biblical notion of "an eye for an eye." In Chapter Two, Angélica Gorodischer's story "How to Succeed in Life" is an insightful depiction of the power plays between an upper-class family and its servants. In Chapter Three, Marcela Solá's "Natural Paradises" explores an interesting power reversal in the case of a torture victim and the torturer, whereas the excerpt from her novel El silencio de Kind deals with the infiltration of Nazi ideology in the Argentine military through the relationship between a teenage girl and her friend, a former Nazi general. Chapter Four includes two stories by Luisa Valenzuela, "Tango," a tale about seduction and male domination in a brief encounter in a tango salon, and "The Key," in which Valenzuela deals with the issue of women's writing and woman's power in a salute to the courage of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Chapter Five, on Tununa Mercado, contains two short stories: "Combatant Love," about the dynamics of domination and subjugation in erotic relationships, and "Delirious Love," which develops the idea of love as an overpowering obsession. Chapter Six includes two brief selections of Alicia Dujovne Ortiz's Eva Perón: A Biography, an inclusion justified because of the fictional overtones the author admittedly gives to her book. In "The Blond Madonna," Dujovne Ortiz reflects on how Evita's physical transformation when she became a blonde ultimately led to her image as a Madonna. In "White, Black, Red," she discusses the powerfully polarizing effect that Evita had on the Argentine people. Chapter Seven, on Liliana Heer, features her story "Red Summer," a psychological study of the coming of age of a young woman who breaks away from her domineering mother. In Chapter Eight, Liliana Heker's story "They Live Far Away" depicts the struggles of a schoolteacher in a poor rural district who fights valiantly to keep her school from being shut down by the local authorities. Chapter Nine presents Alina Diaconú's story "The Evil Eye," a narrative that reflects on the power of the curandera, or faith healer, and the psychological and emotional effects of faith healing on someone who is ill. In Chapter Ten, María Kodama's story "Leonor" portrays a young girl who suffers neglect from her parents and little by little drifts into madness, thus reflecting on the powerful effect of parental neglect on a child. Chapter Eleven includes Cristina Siscar's story "Hoop, Thread, and Canvas," a piece about a young girl whose father is involved in the military repression and the effect this has on her and her mother. Also by Siscar is the brief narrative "The Bra," which describes the mixed feelings of power and vulnerability a young girl experiences when she acquires her first bra. Chapter Twelve features Ana María Shua's story "The Spinal Column," about a woman who re-encounters a former lover who had been her revolutionary comrade during the Dirty War many years earlier. Also by Shua is the excerpt from her novel La muerte como efecto secundario, where she depicts a futuristic society in which the abuses of power have engendered a chaotic society. Chapter Thirteen includes a story by Alicia Kozameh titled "Impressions of Heights," where she draws from her own experience to develop a narrative about the excruciating conditions of the cell in which thirty women were imprisoned during the Dirty War. In Chapter Fourteen, there are two stories by Esther Cross, "The Recipe" and "Appearances," both about the power of love and its transformational effects on both genders. In these two stories, Cross reflects a more contemporary view of the role of woman, one that suggests the possibility of male empowerment of the female and of less-rigid gender expectations. Finally, Chapter Fifteen includes a story by Ana Quiroga, "A Little Bit Farther," about a policewoman who feels her capabilities have been undermined by her male colleagues and who purposefully ventures into a murder scene in order to prove her worth. Like Cross, Quiroga questions traditional female roles, reflecting the possibility of more progressive options for women in Argentina today.

The topic of women and power is as complex and diverse as it is fascinating, particularly in a society like Argentina's, where women are expected to be strong and intelligent, to pursue a career and at the same time be feminine, domestic, and maternal. My observation, after years of research and reflection, is that the women writers of Argentina have excelled in mirroring the many faces of women vis-à-vis power because they have been driven by the desire to understand themselves and their place within the family, the workplace, and society, much like women writers anywhere else. Yet, what makes the case of Argentine women writers unique is a certain ethos of being Argentine that generates a paradoxical self-questioning. Many authors have written about this ethos. Marcos Aguinis, for example, in an insightful study of the Argentine mystique titled El atroz encanto de ser argentinos (The Atrocious Charm of Being Argentine, 2001), comments that "Nos duele la Argentina y nuestro pueblo. Por eso es atroz nuestro querer" ("Argentina and our people pain us. That is why our love is atrocious"). He notes that the name Argentina itself has magic because it denotes argentum, the Latin word for silver that signals riches and fortune (as sought by the Spaniards). The name Río de la Plata (Silver River) multiplies the vision of a river of silver at the banks of the nation. Coined by poet Martín del Barco Centenera, the word "Argentina" holds beauty, melody, promise, affection, and deceit. Why is the quality of deceit included, one might ask? Aguinis explains this by stating that Argentines are very proud of their country, their culture, and their intellectual and natural wealth, but at the same time they are disappointed by the nation's failure to reach its potential. And here lies the paradoxical nature of the Argentine ethos.

Argentina is, in a sense, the prodigal son of Latin America. It is a country almost as vast as the United States and almost as rich in natural resources (one of the richest countries in the world in the early decades of the twentieth century), where education, culture, and literacy are highly valued; yet it has failed dramatically to reach its potential, has failed to produce a qualified government, and is currently mired in yet another economic crisis. Like the prodigal son, Argentina had it all and then lost it. However, Argentines are still fiercely proud of their heritage, and it is this heritage, perhaps a reflection of the authoritarian power structures that pervade the culture, that captures the imagination of the writers collected in this volume.

Like the chorus of a Greek play, Alejandro Dolina, a well-respected contemporary Argentine essayist who writes social commentary, has become the spokesman for the Argentine collective unconscious. Dolina's essays provide a cultural context within which the Argentine mystique takes a concrete form. He evokes charming old colonial neighborhoods, balconies clad in black ironwork and geraniums overlooking tree-lined plazas, the quaint turn-of-the-century cafés, the urban legends of Buenos Aires, the seductive sway of the tango, the cadences of the melancholic bandoneón (a musical instrument for tango), the Sunday flea markets and merry-go-rounds, the decaying neighborhoods where families sit at night on their sidewalks to visit with neighbors, the sound of the whistle of the knife sharpener who strolls the streets, and the hustle and bustle of the city center flanked by wide avenues, palaces turned office buildings, and sidewalk cafés. In one of Dolina's stories from his book Crónicas del ángel gris (Chronicles of the Grey Angel, 2003), he describes a young woman from the neighborhood of Flores who was so beautiful that those who looked upon her were said to have died. Because of her extreme beauty, she was also exceedingly lonely and sad. There were, however, some brave souls who attempted to knock on her door and look at her anyway. In a sense, this story can be seen as a metaphor for Argentina. The writers who choose to knock on her door and look at her become vulnerable; they expose themselves and their country, which is perceived as both beautiful and horrible at the same time. Author Luisa Valenzuela has referred to Argentina as a country of poets and cannibals because, she explains, every so often the cannibals get hold of power, and silence and kill the poets. The women writers collected here, like Valenzuela's poets, have exposed their very souls in spite of the threat of the cannibals. In so doing, they have opened up the window through which the social fabric of a paradoxically fascinating culture can be seen with the naked eye.

In her pioneering work The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir claims that one is not born a woman but rather becomes a woman; existence precedes essence. Thus, becoming a woman is a process that evolves through time and is subject to change and new interpretations. Patriarchal interpretations of the female can be subverted and displaced; however, redefining centuries of gender identity is not an easy task. The authors collected in this book make significant strides toward redefining what it means to be a woman within the context of Argentine society in the last fifty years. Throughout my years of research on Argentine women writers, I have been struck by the depth of thought, the intellectual seriousness, the artistic merit, and the courageous sincerity of the work of these writers. I have also been disappointed by the lack of recognition they have experienced within the literary and cultural life of Argentina and abroad. This book is an attempt not only to bring their work to a wider readership, but also to further the project of rethinking and rewriting the dynamics of power from the perspective of women who choose to speak their truth, regardless of the consequences.



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