I listened to the Reading Women Podcast where the hosts interviewed the author of Cantoras (Knopf, available now), Carolina de Robertis. I was immediately struck by her calm and gentle spirit. In addition to the high praise it gained from fellow bookstagrammers I trust, Melissa and Lupita, I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as possible.
(Click the link to hear the interview! Reading Women Podcast Interview with Carolina de Robertis)
Cantoras is about five queer Latina women who are oppressed under the rule of an unforgiving regime where homosexuality is punishable. Somehow they find one another and then, amazingly, they discover a shack which they purchase and turn into their own private getaway. Told over forty years, the friendships that started from this beach shack grow, and in turn, it becomes the home they’ve each been searching for their whole lives – a place free from judgment and restrictions, where they can give and receive unconditional love.
The characters are rich and deep and they truly carry the story. Malena stole my heart, but I was equally invested in the other four main characters (Flaca, Romina, Anita “La Venus”, and Paz), and one incredible secondary character, El Lobo. They created a bond with each other that went much further than friendship – it was their “chosen family”.
“She’d thought they might get relief from the city, perhaps make friends, but she hadn’t known they could come to feel like something more than friends, something larger, a kind of alternative family stitched together by the very fact that they’d been torn from the fabric of the accepted world.“
This concept of one’s “chosen family” struck me. While I believe its a genuine thing in any group where acceptance and love are hard to find, I also realized that this is a universal desire – the need to be surrounded by people that uplift and support you, that have your genuine interests at heart, and that love you regardless of who you are or what you do. Don’t we all seek out people we can live our truth with? Sometimes family members feel forced upon us (whether through familial or societal expectations), and sometimes we’re forced to be around people we wouldn’t choose, and that’s where the beauty of this “chosen family” concept comes in. To seek out – on purpose – people that are good for our soul. The women in this book demonstrate this level of love, friendship, commitment, and belonging so beautifully.
“They’d been forming a kind of family, woven from castoffs, like a quilt made from strips of leftover fabric no one wanted. They wanted each other. They had to stay woven They could not fray.”
Over and over again, I was struck by de Robertis’ beautiful writing. Lyrical and metaphorical, she transported me to another place and time. I was impressed with her ability to write a deeper meaning than what was presented on the page. For example, when de Robertis first describes this uninhibited beach town, she says:
“…there was no basement anywhere on this damn cape, there was barely a tree to hide behind, everything had a raw quality to it, bared to the open wind.”
While that is a physical description of this place, it also describes the collective mission of these five women – to figure out how to expose themselves and how to live in their truths, to accept who they are, and to embrace it fully. This shack will be the place they learn to do all of those things.
De Robertis wrote a story that touched my heart. Full of themes like home and belonging, overcoming past traumas and injustices, and finding your “chosen family” so you can live life more fully, this story will remain with me for a very long time. There is also a lot of interesting information regarding Uruguay and their political history during the forty-year span this novel covers.
Even though there were a few things I didn’t love – it started to drag just a little bit in the middle, and some of the character’s decisions extremely frustrated me – overall, I would highly recommend this book.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I read to gain compassion and understanding, and to gain insight into lives that I don’t have any knowledge about through personal experience. I want to change myself and my thinking and learn about different parts of the world. This book hits all of those marks and easily makes it one of the best books of the year!
“In telling stories that are largely absent from formal histories or from the great noise of mainstream culture, I never forget that there are thousands if not millions of people whose names we may never learn, whose names are lost in time, who made our contemporary lives possible through acts of extraordinary courage. Their stories have all too often gone unrecorded, but I am here today, and able to speak, because of them. And, finally, to anyone reading this who’s struggled through a chrysalis to become her or his or their authentic self: I see you, I thank you, I’m glad you’re here, this book is yours as well.”
– Carolina de Robertis, from the Acknowledgments page.