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La escritora mexicana Amparo Dávila. Foto: Mario González Suárez.
Mexican writer Amparo Dávila. Photo: Mario González Suárez.

"Unusual" Amparo Dávila dies, the mother of the Mexican fantasy tale

Writers Cecilia Eudave and Iliana Vargas remember the great lady of Mexican narrative, for whom literature was always a form of resistance.

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There are authors who drag you to the other side of the mirror. As a child, you may be curious about what is on the other side, but you need something or someone to pull you to start seeing the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary, the horror in the beauty and the beauty, of course, in the terrifying. 

The stories of the Mexican Amparo Dávila (92), who died last week, have been for many readers and authors of the fantasy and terror genre, a form of twinning with the monster that lives within us

This is how she is remembered by the writers Cecilia Eudave and Iliana Vargas, two great authors of the genre who have worked on her books and who had the fortune of knowing the Mexican lady of the strange.

Cecilia Eudave

My relationship with Amparo Dávila dates back to the early 1990s when I discovered her book Tiempo Destrozado. I was immediately captivated by her unusual stories, sometimes fantastic, sometimes rare. I have written articles about her, directed theses and devoured her books over and over again. I consider her to be one of the most important fantasy authors of the 20th century. Her texts reveal the Mexican context of women in the first half of the last century, and she gives a twist to the feminine space by means of non-mimetic literature, through singular and disturbing writing. She managed to create excellent atmospheres so that her female characters could free their other self: the monstrous one. These monsters and fantastic beings produce a catharsis and awareness of the repressed being. Dávila manages to awaken the stifled or rejected identity of women dominated by the social impositions of the time they live in. Her literature encourages change and makes women visible in the context of oppression and disqualification, using the unusual worlds in which her characters move as a pretext.

"With the years, time no longer weighs heavily, there is no hurry to get anywhere, to prove anything, only the memories remain, the stories you have left written, those that in some way will become, if they are lucky, eternal...", Amparo Dávila.

In 2011 I finally met her at a literary conference organized by El Colegio de México. I was fortunate to be introduced to her, have a chat with her, receive her advice as one writer to another who followed in her footsteps, and above all, become fascinated by her presence, so imagined for many years. I remember that she told me, when I asked her why it took so long to re-distribute and publish her work: 'You have to resist, Cecilia. Good literature imposes itself over the years. One must continue in one's own way, writing and with one's life. It is the readers, and only they, who, in the end, have the last word. With the years, time no longer weighs heavily, there is no hurry to get anywhere, or prove anything. Only the memories remain, the stories that you have left written, those that in some way will become, if they are lucky, eternal... Imagine, when was I going to suspect that it would be translated into Arabic? Yes, into Arabic'. She just received the news and was very excited. Then she woke up so affable and smiling. I wanted to go with her but she was already surrounded by many people again. So, among that crowd of voices and bodies, she left, slowly devoured by the others. I stayed there as if living the end of one of her stories where the dream does not seem so and reality matters little... 

Iliana Vargas

The first story by Amparo Dávila that came to my hands was El Espejo, thanks to the Diploma in Fantastic Literature that I took with Ana María Morales in 2001. At the time, it was not easy to get her books, so I surprised when, in an antique bookstore, I found a numbered copy (0008) of the first edition of Árboles petrificados, published by Joaquín Mortiz in 1977. I read it in a couple of days, and it made such an impact on me that I included it in one of the stories of my first book (Joni Munn y otras alteraciones del psicosoma, FETA, 2012), alluding to it and to a candle as threefold objects to access another dimension of reality. 

Since I read the book, I felt an irresistible attraction to look for more of her narrative, and discovered a particular connection with her vision of the supernatural - the ominous and the dreamlike in elements and situations of the everyday reality of women who are part of different social strata. In 2016, after a talk she had with Bernardo Esquinca and Jonathan Minila about the commemorative 40-year edition of Árboles Petrificados, I took the opportunity to tell her about it, and I remember she looked at me carefully, smiled, and said: 'Thank you very much; notice that I wrote it many years ago without thinking about all that, but if you found it, it is because it is there.'

"I hope that you have arrived in peace at Eden, accompanied by all your monstrous machinations." 

A few days ago I commented on Facebook that I like to use Alta Cocina in the workshops on fantastic stories that I teach in Escuelas Normales, asking the students to rewrite the story from the point of view of the beings that will be cooked, without ever revealing which beings they are. Some students manage to elucidate which little animals the story refers to, since they usually collect and cook them themselves, but many others do not, and it is incredible how their imagination is triggered by speculating about them.

As a reader and writer of fantastic literature and speculative fiction, I have a lot to thank Amparo Dávila for. Her name appears every time someone asks me what my favorite influences or writers are. I read her and write about her whenever I can because, until a few years ago, her work was little known and studied in Mexico. And, as I said on the day she died, I hope she arrived in Eden in peace, accompanied by all her monstrous machinations.  

Solitude, madness and fear

A poet and storyteller from Zacatecas and a true protagonist of Mexican literature in the 20th century, Amparo published her first book, Salmos bajo la luna (1950), at the age of 22. It's followed by such titles as Perfiles de Soledad (1954), Muerte en el bosque (1959), Tiempo destrozado (59) - and made up of such emblematic stories as El Espejo - and El huésped y otros relatos (2018).

Solitude, madness and fear were recurrent themes of this writer who handled fantastic and surreal literature like no one else, and who was recognized with numerous awards such as the Xavier Villaurrutia prize and the Medal of Fine Arts. 

Recently, El Huésped appeared in the anthology, Insólitas (Páginas de espuma, 2019), edited by Teresa López-Pellisa and Ricard Ruíz Garzón, which also includes El reclamo, by Cecilia Eudave.

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