The House of Memory: Stories by Jewish Women Writers of Latin America

By Barr, Lois | Shofar, October 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

The House of Memory: Stories by Jewish Women Writers of Latin America


Barr, Lois, Shofar


The House of Memory: Stories by Jewish Women Writers of Latin America

The stories gathered here by Marjorie Agosín are to be savored, read, and reread. They evoke a picture of Latin American Jewish life in all its immense variety. Agosín, Chilean-born academic, writer, and human rights activist, has chosen stories from even the tiniest of Jewish communities -- Cuba's dwindling thousand and Costa Rica's three thousand. From the larger Jewish communities, Argentina and Mexico respectively, Alicia Steimberg's Músicos y relojeros (Musicians and Watchmakers) and Margo Glantz's Las genealogías (The Family Tree) take their place of honor at the beginning of the book. This excerpt from Steimberg's novel relates with humor and irony the immigrant experience as seen through the eyes of the second generation. Margo Glantz records her parents' oral histories, both as immigrants to Mexico City and in the shtetl. They recount the intellectual ferment of the Jews who broke with tradition, the uncertainties of life in the Pale of Settlement around the period of the Russian Revolution, and the violence of the pogroms. Cemeteries and burial grounds loom large and memories of the chanting of the Kaddish evoke for her father the warmth of sitting by the stove among the older men.

As with any good anthology, certain themes emerge: always being from somewhere else (Agosín), absence and loss (Behar), the Holocaust (Muñiz-Huberman), and conflicts of identity in Glantz's wickedly funny "Shoes." Teresa Porzecanski's "Rojl Elsips" recounts the story of an old woman too trod upon to rebel, much less to narrate the story. But the predominant theme is the woman who transgresses the rules of her social group. In Reina Roffe's "Exotic Birds," Aunt Reche cross-dresses to say Kaddish and almost breaks away from the repressive family home. Ester Rok's Aunt Consuelo provides a model of sexual liberation or a cautionary moral tale, depending on the family member who recounts her marital and premarital experiences. Angélica Gorodischer's Gertrudis in "Camera Obscura" scandalizes her traditional family by walking out of a loveless marriage in order to run off with a photographer. In the excerpt from the novel Novia que te vea (May You Make a Good Bride), set in Mexico City's Sephardic communities, the rebellious Oshinica recounts her confusing experiences when Catholic schoolmates assure her that the Jews killed Christ. Although women do not count as mourners to say Kaddish for their dead in traditional Jewish practice, Safranchik's work offers an eloquent "Kaddish" for her deceased parents. In her chilling story the words of the prayer do not comfort but "...they rend our souls" and are "...like the complaint of a child who's been left irremediably alone."

Women's voices predominate, but the men are not forgotten. Ana María Shua's Libro de los recuerdos (The Book of Memories) offers relentlessly critical and funny versions of the immigrant grandfather. …

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