July 23, 2009

Review: The Curse of Eve by Liliana Blum, trans. Toshiya Kamei

The Curse of Eve is a collection of stories about women—women as lovers, girls, mothers, and daughters, women of hope, violence, voice, Mexico and the violence of hope. The Curse of Eve represents a first on two counts—the first full-length story collection from author Liliana Blum, and the first full-length book translation by Toshiya Kamei.

In his opening note, Kamei uses these words to describe Blum’s fiction: ‘foreboding,’ ‘tragic,’ ‘lighthearted,’ ‘dark,’ and ‘damned feminist.’

Foreboding, yes, as in the story of a mistress who meets Stalin’s wife or when a modern-day Miss Marple attempts to solve the crime of infidelity. Tragic, when women describe their struggles to learn the touch of a man, and others who learn it too soon. Lighthearted in the case of dwarf as Avon Lady and in one woman’s chance meeting with Ron Jeremy. Dark as the inner psyche of an artist who uses real-life models for his work. The Curse of Eve as ‘damned feminist?’ Always.

Blum deftly renders each woman in her own state of personal trauma. There is the moment of discovery between a husband and wife, the beginnings of an understanding between brother and sister, and the recovery of a woman coming to terms with her past. There are men too—men defined by women, men driven by their repulsion and desire for women, men as narrators, observers, actors, and catalysts for action.

In the collection’s title story, The Curse of Eve (A Tragedy in Seven Acts), Kamei translates Blum’s story of a woman coming to terms with the pangs of pregnancy. While her husband remains blissfully absent, a modern-day Eve traces her thoughts through the course of two violent births, the loss of her youth, and her imprisonment in motherhood. From the insignificant act that marks the beginning of her curse to the birth of a daughter who will inherit “the sufferings of her kind,” the nameless narrator remarks that she is told that she must, at all times, remember to, “Take it like a woman.” A theme that is echoed throughout the collection, we are made to understand that Blum’s women can take it all. Even as we become acutely aware of the extent to which ‘Eve’ suffers, as well as the tragedy that lies in store for her, we hold on to the hope she feels when she admits to holding her child for the first time, admitting that, “at this moment nothing else matters.”

This sentiment is mirrored in the equally haunting, Periquita Shoes. With stark prose and striking imagery, Kamei renders Blum’s story about a local balloon seller’s desire for a young girl with Periquita shoes. His single-minded passion is likened to his craft, described as one that, “rises, blows up, [like] a balloon reaching its limits.” His desire is compounded by the vast difference in their ages. As the story culminates in an act of startling cruelty, we are left to lie in a field alongside the girl and her Periquita shoes, “full of pain, but alive.”

The landscape of Mexico provides the backdrop for these experiences—a country caught between the realm of superstition and spirituality, romance and reality. It defines Blum and The Curse of Eve as being both border and borderless, a nation of violence no more real than the violence of love, birth, and universal womanhood. From behind the curtains of race, class, gender, and sexuality, each woman carries her own curse of Eve, and the means to overcome it.

It is this universality that defines Blum’s work and her achievement as a writer. Although the stories in The Curse of Eve carry a thread of the foreign and the fantastical, the element of humanity that pervades each piece makes the event of one scene as recognizable as the next. The Curse of Eve is exact and exacting, written in a language that renders both the subject, and the reader, bare. The birth of both a new author and translator, The Curse of Eve marks the beginning of The Fall, a descent into a fiction where we are kept waiting for the next apple to drop.

Review by Jennifer Lue

Liliana V. Blum was born in Durango, Mexico, in 1974. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Kansas and a Master’s degree in Education from the Instituto Technológico de Monterrey. English translations of her stories have appeared in various literary journals, including Eclectica, Mslexia, storySouth, Blackbird, and The Dirty Goat. More of Liliana’s work can be found at http://lasalasdelalacran.blog.com/.

Toshiya Kamei has translated numerous Spanish and Latin American writers, including Liliana V. Blum, Estrella del Valle, Espido Freire, Ericka Ghersi, Leticia Luna, and Socorro Venegas. His translations have appeared in the journals The Dirty Goat, Literal: Latin American Voices and Metamorphoses, among others. His translation of Naoko Awa’s ‘White Mufflers’ can be found in Issue 02 of Weave Magazine.

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