Aurora, by Giancarla de Quiroga [La flor de la Candelaria]. Trans., Kathy S. Leonard. Seattle: Women in Translation, 1999.
An innocent girl. A powerful landholder. A seduction. A betrayal. Abused Indians. A revolt. Giancarla de Quiroga's new novel has all the elements of a conventional Latin American potboiler. But Aurora, touted by the publisher as the first novel by a Bolivian woman to appear in English translation, is no run-of-the-mill Indianlst melodrama. The characters are too complex and unpredictable, and the texture of the plot--which embraces the political, social, and psychological--too subtle.
Set in the thirties, forties, and fifties, the story revolves around Aurora, who, as a young gift not yet fifteen, runs off with a handsome young hacienda owner. An orphan from an upper-class family, Aurora is as naive as she is rebellious. She assumes that her lover Alberto will be faithful and that their passion will last forever, dreams for which she defies family and society.
At first her relationship with Alberto is idyllic, but soon conflicts arise. Alberto is a sophisticated young man who has lived in Paris and known the pleasures of the world. He embraces a host of avant-garde ideas, shunning marriage, religion, and convention. He refuses to legalize his situation with Aurora despite her pleas because he sees matrimony as the invention of a close-minded, priest-ridden society.
Still, Alberto is no love-em and leave-em machista. Rather, he is a mass of contradictions. Although he sincerely cares for Aurora and stays with her for decades, he rarely considers her needs. And while he holds radical views on marriage, he shares many of the predominant attitudes of his class on other subjects. For example, he wants only male children from Aurora, who, with the help of the Indian servant Jesusa, induces repeated miscarriages in order to avoid having daughters. He detests the Indians from whose toil he profits, accusing them of lying and stealing, and endorses the behavior of abusive overseers. When Aurora defies him and begins a school for Indian children, he is furious, and when she adopts two children of his field hands--one of whom turns out to be his own offspring--he copes by simply ignoring them.
Hard working and shrewd, Alberto builds the hacienda into a prosperous enterprise. And yet, he is a dreamer. He yearns to return to Paris, not with Aurora, but alone, in order to recapture the carefree delirium of his youth. Without a...