Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Imperfect Portraits of a Postcolonial Heroine: Laura Restrepo's la Novia Oscura

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Imperfect Portraits of a Postcolonial Heroine: Laura Restrepo's la Novia Oscura

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article considers the conjunction between postmodernism, postcolonialism, feminism, and magical realism. The colonial legacy of Colombia provides for the opposition between timeless female values and the chronological urgency and linear motion of masculine technology. The prostitute is the 'other of the other', representing ambivalence and contagion. Sayonara breaks boundaries between the sacred and the profane, between 'high' and 'low' places. The metafictional aspect of the text highlights the narrator's trajectory from thraldom to the will to know, to acceptance of unresolved mystery. Through the projection of powerful tropes, the prostitute empowers the postcolonial drive to social change.

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Referring to her second publication, La isla de la pasion, Laura Restrepo (b. Colombia, 1950) recounts that her English publisher insisted that she indicate whether her work was a novel or mere reportage. Not only did she refuse to do so but, in a prefatory note to the text, she deliberately blurred the distinction between truth and fiction, historical fact and imaginative re-creation: 'Looking back, I see that this was my declaration of independence with respect to the boundaries between genres.' (1) She goes on to remark that breaking boundaries became an acquired taste and that in Dulce compania (1995) she stretched ambiguity to the limit through her portrait of a reporter investigating the appearance of an angel in a Bogota barrio; the outcome is romance and the birth of a child: 'I was toying with the idea of breaking the traditional separation between human and divine, between author and character.' She acknowledges that she followed a similar procedure in La novia oscura (1999), where the narrator is again a reporter 'who investigates and relates in the first person the results of her investigation, but who is, together with the other characters, invented'. (2) In the postmodern text, borders are constantly traversed and the master narratives of the West, such as that of Catholicism, are undermined or challenged. Postmodernism is associated with discontinuity and fragmentation; it is playful and politically uncommitted; it dismantles but does not reconstruct. Postcolonialism shares many features of postmodernism but not its dominant ludic qualities. It is, rather, contestatory, driven by an urgent social conscience. While 'both "post-"s use irony, the post-colonial cannot stop at irony [...]'. (3) Robert Young points out that the origins of postcolonialism lie in the 'historical resistance to colonial occupation and imperial control' (4) and goes on to note several parallels between postcolonialism and feminism, each focusing on the experience of the victim in the contexts of colonialism and patriarchy respectively. Like feminist writing, the postcolonial frequently dismantles, but more important is its positive impact as 'constructive political enterprise' that implies 'a theory of agency and social change'. Here the postcolonial repudiates the destructive impulse of the postmodern. Among the fundamental issues treated by postcolonialism are state violence, the exploitation of people and environment by transnational corporations, and social disempowerment often determined by race and ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. All these issues feature prominently in La novia oscura, a truly hybrid text which originated in a sociological study, an interview-based investigation of prostitution carried out by the author herself. The ensuing text reads like a testimonial account but the entire scenario, including the narrator, is invented. In John Beverley's terms, La novia oscura corresponds to the category of 'testimonial novel' where an '"author" in the conventional sense has either invented a testimonio-like story or [...] extensively reworked with explicitly literary goals [...] a testimonial account that is no longer present as such except in its simulacrum'. (5)

Despite having published four novels prior to La novia oscura, the first of which, Historia de un entusiasmo, appeared in 1986, Restrepo has attracted scant critical attention: Angela I. …

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