Told from the hips es la traducción al inglés de Cuentos encaderados, publicado en Estados Unidos por la editorial Nowadays Orange Productions. Enero 2015. Estados Unidos.
Told from the hips, short stories. Nowadays Orange Productions. January 2015. U.S.A. This book is the English translation of Cuentos encaderados.
RECONOCIMIENTOS/RECOGNITIONS: X Annual Indie Excellence Awards, 2016. U.S.A. Category: Short stories.
IT WAS A RADIANT MORNING, “like few others” my aunt mused, while inviting me to grab the bike and visit the “Lope.” I was up for anything: Copenhagen was a marvelous city, with bridges, rivers, trees and bicycles. It was not the kingdom of Vikings; Copenhagen was the kingdom of wheels. So I took up the offer. My hosts kept an extra bicycle and were always waiting for the opportunity to offer it to someone. That someone was me, the niece who had boarded two hundred planes to come see them.
“Whatever you do, don’t take your eyes off the road ahead of you,” my uncle had said.
“The cars are going to let you go first,” my aunt had added.
I thought those instructions would do. I hadn’t ridden a blessed bike for years, although as a little girl I was pretty good. “Who cares? I’m in Denmark!” I said to myself, willing to go out pedaling and meet the “Lope” of such great renown.
We walked downstairs from their apartment to the street and I waited there, watching people pass by with half smiles. The Danish seemed to be nice people, most of them dressed in black in the middle of summer (or for what summer lasts over there, a couple of weeks). A cold wind blew and reminded me my bones came from warmer lands. I zipped up the fiercely yellow jacket my aunt had provided and waited with patience and a full smile, until they came from their garage with the bicycles.
“Ready,” they said in unison and handed over the bicycle adorned in red.
“It’s so high!” I said, attempting to get on the seat that now seemed to be placed on top of a large horse.
“The bikes here are like that, but I’ll adjust your seat,” my uncle said.
I was still pinching myself for being there, in the Danish capital, thanks to hard work and savings, to say nothing of a considerable amount of tears, all of which I sent to the back of my mind so as to distance the drama from that pretty street, brimming with such good-looking people. My one firm ambition was to forget what I had left behind, on the other side of the ocean, what had caused me countless allergies and dried up my soul.
“All right,” I said cheerfully. “Let’s go!”
Getting my balance on the bike, barely grazing the ground with the tip of my left foot, I waited for them to get comfortable on their own bikes. Both of them were fifty-ish and I was thirty, but they had an agility that got them on their bikes faster than I had thought possible. They were also much shorter than I was, and yet they skillfully maneuvered the handlebars and pedals to keep their balance.
“Follow me,” my uncle said.
“And I’ll go behind you,” my aunt added.
I always considered myself a good student. If the psychologist on duty told me to cry, I was on it. If the boss asked me to make coffee for everyone, I was there juggling cups and plates to satisfy him. So hearing the words “follow me” and “I’ll go behind you” seemed like an iron-clad guarantee of safety. I forgot the fears that still clenched my throat and set off.
Let’s stop for a moment and enter into a game, one that the literary pact this collection of stories proposes: let’s think of hips. Both men and women have hips, of course, but in women they acquire a special connotation. Their sinuous shape and the cadence of their movement afford them a distinguished place among the multiple features that define what is “feminine.” It is here, precisely, that we find one of the main ports of entry to the narrative: these are stories in which women take the leading role. They are strong, astute women, each with her own tale to tell. Tales that are told, by the way, with hips— because their bodies are the pages where these stories are recorded: words are inscribed in the skin, accompanied by sweat and blood if need be.
It doesn’t matter if the setting is Romania, Copenhagen or Valparaiso: time will pause for an instant— long enough for these voices to be certain that their stories reach us. The reason they do so leads us to another of the threads we must follow: they are characters in search of their origin, their identity, something which isn’t easy when the branches of the gnarled family tree are sealed off by violence. These gouges give rise to women who recognize themselves as displaced and often aimless. One of the narrators in Añañuca-Chachacoma states this feeling explicitly: “I know I am another person, that there is a different landscape within me. I inherited a birthmark from someone I don’t know.” That feeling of always being a foreigner, that displacement, is evident in Copenhagen as well, in the couple that manages to endure the burden of nostalgia thanks to their ritual of traversing a particular place which really represents another, or —in a different, more everyday sense— in the need to fit in, to feel “less strange,” something we observe in the young journalist of Cover Story.
This search inevitably puts us on the track of a female genealogy of sorts. The answer to this entire void lies in the mother that one never met, but who is intuitively sensed; in the strong presence of the grandmother; in the guilt-ridden memory tied to a sister. The male figures, on the other hand, occupy a secondary role (such as Octavia’s alcoholic father, who is unconscious most of the time), or they are antagonistic (such as the violent husband who feigns his wife’s death in The Blood and the Escape) or, at best, merely submissive (such as the spineless husband that Marcelita chooses who simply “let himself be had” in Marcelita’s Amusement). It’s clear that salvation does not lie in romantic love, but in that other bond, infinitely more powerful, that is transmitted from mother to daughter, generation after generation, and which inspires, for example, Teresa (The Blood and the Escape) to go beyond even what she herself imagines she might achieve.
As a symbol of that genealogy, the third thread I would like to highlight springs forth: blood. These women bleed because they’re wounded, because they’re in labor or because they are menstruating (or pretending to, if necessary). It is in these acts of giving birth and menstruating, so characteristic and intimate in womanhood (and which are, by the way, ensconced in the hips), that a strength and new-found power, different from what normally predominates, is being conceived. Women will be nourished by this blood to continue writing their secret stories, which sooner or later will be brought to light, allowing them to pick up the pieces of their lives, and, above all, find their own unique niche.
To conclude, let’s return to the initial game that revolves around the hips. They can be an effective weapon of seduction (just observe Marcelita, whose “hip movements” to the rhythm of a salsa dance landed her a husband), but they can also represent the vessel in which Añañuca stores her ancestral rage. It is worth noting that the chosen body part isn’t the heart, but rather this other one, at once lateral and centric, which offers us support but which can also be dislocated, displaced and fractured.
The invitation, then, is to enjoy these stories: to laugh (and be surprised) at the delightful Marcelita, to unravel Suan’s secret, or to wonder what has become of Octavia, just to quote a few of the stories.
We anxiously await, by the way, the next two volumes the author has promised us, knowing in advance that we can rely for certain on the storytelling prowess of Andrea Amosson.
Claudia Martínez Echeverría, PhD. Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
Red City Reviews
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