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[North] American Literature[s]: Strong Women

31 May 2012

From BookRiot:

Welcome to another installment of [North] American Literature[s], in which Dr. B and I invite American readers to step across their borders, if only to fill their bookshelves.

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This month we’re taking a look at strong women writers and their equally strong female protagonists from beyond the borders of this fine country. Brenna’s contribution to this post was delivered to my inbox while she was in a plane en route to somewhere way more interesting than where I am. I am writing my contribution as I sit at my computer in my pajamas wishing that I were on a plane to an even more interesting place (based mostly on the availability of quality tequila) – Mexico, the setting for the novel that I’m about to discuss –Arrancame la vida, or Tear This Heart Out by Ángeles Mastretta.

The story takes place in the city of Puebla, famous for twin volcanoes and a proclivity for putting chocolate on chicken (they call it mole, and it is supposed to be wonderful). It tells the story of Catalina Guzman, a young woman who gets swept away by the power and prestige that comes along with being the wife of an influential general at the height of the Revolution. Over the years, she feels increasingly trapped in her role as a politician’s wife. She bears his children, behaves as expected, and he, in turn, cheats on her. Cataline fights back, though. She falls in love with an old friend of her husband, the musician Carlos Vives, and they begin a long affair. She never lets her husband, with his questionable character, crush her spirits.

So much of Mexican literature focuses on the men of the Revolution.  There has not been a great deal written about the female perspective on the war. There’s also not much (in the realm of fiction) about the upper class. Most authors tend to focus on the struggles of the peasant class. Mastretta gives readers a glimpse at what it was like on the other side, both in terms of class and gender.  The romantic elements might take center stage, but they cannot be separated from the changes that were going on in the post-revolutionary society of which Cati is a part. The book was an immediate success in Mexico, winning the Mazatlán Prize for Literature in 1985.

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Talking about the strong women in Canadian Literature is such a treat because there are so many of them! CanLit has never had a problem with women writers and female protagonists being a major part of our literary canon. The first novel ever written by a Canadian was actually by a teenage girl named Julia Beckwith Hart. Her effort, St. Ursula’s Convent, is not the greatest novel ever written — it’s honestly not even very good — but it does signal that the tradition of women in Canadian Literature is as old as the concept of literature in Canada itself. And luckily, the efforts got better and better over time, from the early texts by Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill to the grand dames of Canadian Letters like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, to recent superstars like Marina Endicott and Lisa Moore.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG will confirm that mole is wonderful.

Books in General, Non-US

One Comments to “[North] American Literature[s]: Strong Women”

  1. To that list I’d add Carolyne Aarsen, whose romances set in the Cariboo region of British Columbia can hold their own against anything. I love these ranching women who can string fence wire and give injections to cattle right alongside the men.

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