Dolores Reyes, author of "Earth-Eater". Via Infobae.
Dolores Reyes, author of "Earth-Eater". Via Infobae.

The fortune teller who "ate earth" to search for the victims of femicide

"Earth-Eater" is the frank, tough and very special debut of writer and activist Dolores Reyes, which will be published this year in the United States by…


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Melina Romero was raped and murdered in a herd. Araceli Ramos was killed after attending a fake job interview. Their bodies are buried in the cemetery in the Argentinean town of Pablo Podestá (Buenos Aires). About 150 meters away, Dolores Reyes is teaching at an elementary school. One day, during a writing workshop, one of Dolores' classmates wrote "the soil of the cemetery," and immediately, the smell of damp earth, of pain-laden soil burying the victims, filled her nose. 

That was the beginning, there this Argentine activist, mother, teacher and writer began to shape a story dedicated to Melina, Araceli and those who have survived them. To all of us. 

"Earth-Eater" ("Cometierra" in Spanish) is a harsh, frank novel, a shovelful of anguish and dust through a girl who wants her mother to be buried in the house, but since she can't get it, she feeds on the earth where her body lies riddled by her husband. And in the act of swallowing, a terrible gift and stigma takes hold of her.

Every time she eats earth, she will see where the bodies are and how the missing people died.

"Earth-Eater" raises a form of wild empathy. Is the only way to understand the horror of femicide to feel what the victims feel?

We need that empathy because we are crossed all the time by numbers and statistics and at one point that makes us feel numb. We have to go through the experience and realize the enormous cost it had for all those women we missed; which is a bit what Earth-Eater does, eat the earth, eat the experience of the other. As if the earth and all those violated and buried bodies transmitted her knowledge and memory of male violence.

She has a gift - the clairvoyance - but also a stigma. Isn't it a bit the fate of all people who raise their voices and say what others don't want to see?

Absolutely, no one names her by her real name and it is not something she has claimed, besides suffering from being singled out in a very small community.

There is a huge cost in raising your voice and saying what all of society is silent and wants to forget in order to make life more bearable. But in Argentina, an epidemic of feminicide is upon us and there is no time to play dumb.

You set the story in the province of Buenos Aires, in an environment where all the protagonists are young and their lives are very difficult. How does this urban area, which is rarely referred to in literature, work?

It's huge and has a massive population. You think that only Matanzas is like a European country and is just a district. People live in much harsher conditions than the ones in the capital and more than half of the adolescents and children are under the poverty level. You live as you can. 

But it is also very exuberant, full of a nature that devours the walls, of trucks and cars, and I wanted to reflect that in the novel as well. As well as the vitality of the adolescents, who choose to close themselves off from all the violence and go out as little as possible. They create a society of the everyday and another way of relating far from the adults and the deaths.

There I was inspired not only by my own children, but also by all the years of sharing and chatting with my students, who arrive at school very young, when they are 8 or 9 years old, and when they come back to see me they interact with me in a different way, with other problems. Like Earth-Eater does with her teacher, Ana, who dies at 23 but continues to talk to her as she grows up. 

Adults, especially women, turn to this adolescent psychic who eats earth to look for their missing loved ones. There's a political helplessness that overflies the whole novel.

The theme of the role of the Government is central. Imagine the desperation in which any person who lacks a sister or mother and Power does very little, or is even involved in the deaths, can be. 

More than 30% of homicides are committed with state weapons by the police or gendarmerie; many times the trafficking networks are mixed, with police participation. What help are you going to find by going to report a woman's disappearance to a police station?

Every two or three days they call or write to me asking about the psychic who eats earth; behind that, which can be funny, you feel the desperation of the people who are looking for their loved ones and do not have an answer. It happens in Argentina and all over America, in Colombia and Mexico, and the searchers also disappear.

The worst thing is not knowing.

Yes, condemning someone to wonder what happened and where their daughter is. It seems that it is not enough to murder, that one must make someone disappear and steal their identity, steal their children and their bodies. They bring bottles to Earth-Eater that represent the missing people they have to look for, but in the end there are so many that their house is turning into a cemetery. 

At least the notes and epitaphs allow us to console and say goodbye, but the femicides annihilate that possibility.

Is literature politics?

I think that society gives us writing material and what interested me was to create a fiction that spoke much more of reality than any other discourse. 

It's a space for intervention to problematize and point out, and I find it more fertile for solving open problems. Especially in a society that tries to ignore women's lives, literature takes us away from statistics and media contempt. 

How do you think the media treats feminicide?

A lot of lives with enormous potential are lost that end up being just a headline.

Melina Romero, one of the girls to whom I dedicate the book, was raped and murdered in a horrific way by a group of three men, and the only thing the media said in the face of this horror of being beaten, raped and thrown into a stream was that she had dropped out of school and was a bowling fan. 

Women are born with a target on their foreheads. So what? 

We have each other, because before we had no theoretical tools to see what was happening and no words to name it. When I was a girl, feminicide was called a passion crime, 'he killed her because he loved her.' We're getting better and better. 

Who would need to gorge themselves on earth to feel and see the horror that women suffer?

In connection with this, we became aware at a very young age that we can be attacked just because we are women. If something so blatant is part of our lives, it should be part of every CIS man's life. 

Eat a spoonful of earth.


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