'No es un río': A poetic look at provincial landscapes
In her latest novel, Argentine author Selva Almada explores machismo and masculinity from a provincial perspective
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Three men go fishing in a provincial region of Argentina. They are Enero, El Negro and Tilo, the teenage son of Eusebio — the dead friend. While they drink and cook and talk and dance, they deal with the ghosts of the past and present, which are confused in the mood altered by wine and stupor.
With No es un río ( 2020), Argentine author Selva Almada completes her trilogy of men, which began with El viento que arrasa (2012) and was immediately followed by Ladrilleros (2013).
In it, the author, known for calling herself a "provincial writer" as well as a "feminist," writes a novel that mixes reality and dream, fact and conjecture, islanders, water, night, fire, fish, bugs. Human, but at the same time animal and vegetable. The novel narrates the life that happens near the river, at the mercy of humidity, heat and mosquitoes. It flows like a riverbed, a long conversation or the affection between people who love each other: mothers, children, siblings, lovers, godchildren.
"The river as a narrative current takes the reader through the ghosts of the past in a hamlet that recalls the atmosphere of tropical latitudes," writes Juan Camilo Rincón in an article published in El Tiempo. "The dreams of a drowned man, the women in a horizon that is not promising, a pierced line, fishing as an escape and hope for salvation in a life in which not much happens, the silences and the dosed words become the islets of this narration."
"The plot takes place on an island, the characters are fishermen, fishing requires silence... The novel's own universe ended up dictating how it should be told: whispering, almost like the murmur of water," explained the author in an interview with El Espectador.
Describing the landscapes of the novel, Almeda evokes the places where she was born and grew up, Villa Elisa, a small town of barely 10,000 inhabitants in the province of Entre Ríos.
"I think there is a way of looking at and understanding the world being provincial that is peripheral and I always liked the edges more than the center. I like to think of provincialism as a poetics that is also political," she told El Espectador.
About the author
Selva Almada was born in Entre Ríos, Argentina in 1973 and began studying journalism, a profession to which she dedicated herself for a time. She published her first stories in Semanario Análisis, in the city of Paraná. There, between 1997 and 1998, she edited the magazine CAelum Blue.
She is the author of several novels, among them El viento arrasa (2012), translated into several languages — the novel won the First Book Award in Edinburgh in 2019, after its translation into English — and Ladrilleros (2013), the two works that together with No es un río form her trilogy of male tales. In 2014, her nonfiction chronicle Chicas muertas (2014), where Almada spotlighted three femicides that occurred in three Argentine provinces in the 1980s, projected her as a feminist writer.
Almada is also co-founder of Salvaje Federal, a virtual bookstore that wants to contribute to the circulation of literature written and edited in the Argentine provinces and bring it closer to readers from all over the country.
"When I was a girl, my fantasy was to be a librarian because in my town there were no bookstores, so the reading paradise was the popular library," explained the author in an interview with Página 12, recalling her childhood in Villa Elisa.
Salvaje Federal is organized by literary "regions": river literature (Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Misiones and Corrientes), mountain literature (Chaco, Formosa, Santiago del Estero and Salta), Andean literature (Jujuy, La Rioja, Catamarca, Mendoza and San Juan), Pampa literature (Buenos Aires, La Pampa, San Luis, Córdoba and Tucumán) and Patagonian literature (Río Negro, Neuquén, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego).
"We know that much of that literature is not known and that the bookstore also has to function as a promoter of that literature," she said.