The Disappearance of
Irene Dos Santos
Within these pages is an artfully constructed novel written by a classic storyteller, Margaret Mascarenhas. The story, reminiscent of a modernized selection from Canterbury Tales, opens with a quotation ascribed to Dolores Ibarruri: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” This expression gives way to a set of sections based on the story’s principal’s private lives. That opening quote of Ibarruris, (she helped form the Spanish communist party around 1921), suggests subtle, underlying themes present in the story’s plot.Is this novel a mystery? Perhaps mysterious would be more accurate. Still this selection is an especially recommended read for mature feminine readers because it contains extraordinary details dealing with the development of family relationships, maturation, trust, love, loss and death. Set in a background of disturbed social institutions, surrounded by economic and political turmoil in the country of Venezuela, the essence of “good life” values are offered despite events of surrounding communal havoc and anxiety. Does Mascarenhas succeed in helping us think thoughtfully about the composition of what constitutes her evaluation of that good life? I believe so and am pleased to read her considerations.
The framework of the book is simple: Lily, one of central characters, is pregnant and slips on a wet kitchen floor. Fearing that she might suffer a miscarriage, doctors confine her to bed, Friends and family decide that while they engage in a novena to the city’s patron saint Maria Lionza (a major reference in the story line) for the unborn child’s spiritual safety and well-being, they entertain themselves and the patient with personal stories about life experiences. The tale begins to unravel complex narratives, involving dreams, memories, and possible visions forming a wonderfully entwined, continuum where these many recollections form a cohesive plot line, that carefully winds toward answering the question of what exactly happened to fifteen-year-old Irene dos Santos when she disappeared from the Hotel Macuto into a surrounding jungle.
Please be aware that these biographies may be tender, humorous, bawdy, brutal or occasionally shocking, and even quite chauvinistic. Still, Mascsrenhas is most sensitive to the varied backgrounds and political bent of her readership. As a mestiza girl asks, “. . .who made them [gringos] the policia of the world?”And throughout the novel, discussion involving degrees of poverty and lackluster morality lead to ruthless bribery or continual dissent, underscoring the profound political unease, involving activities that truly impoverish the people. It is difficult to ignore phrases as “eaters of our lands and souls” or “. . .the best cure for a bitter heart is hope.” References to revolutionary activities (cross border and tribal conflicts) in a repressive climate abound, but are not overstated in their context.I strongly urge close examination of the two end essays—one beginning “Colombian Blood Letting…” and the other “A Goddess, a Snake” etc. An excellent summer read, this book is intellectually appealing also and led me to some serious Internet investigation and further reading of Venezuela’s historical and present political position.
Reviewed by Joan Hives
Posted in Reviews