THE FOURTH WORLD by Diamela Eltit


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The condition of Chile under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet is given savage and amusing expression here: the first English translation of a novel (originally published in 1988) by the author of Sacred Cow (see below--In Brief). Eltit's title adopts the phrase currently descriptive of the realm inhabited by disadvantaged aliens adrift in otherwise settled societies--but may also allude to the space initially shared by her (literal) twin narrators: their mother's womb, before they're born. In the first of matching narratives, ""he"" describes their conception, then their jealous enmity in utero, where ""she"" is positioned awkwardly--and, we may be sure, symbolically--beneath him (""I evaded her, of course, keeping as much distance between us a possible""). Through such humorously stiff, self-consciously paternalistic language, Eltit offers amusing pictures of the rivalry of baby brother and sister (while she manages to speak the first word, it's he who takes the first step), and of their dull-witted father's knee-jerk machismo (he mounts their unwilling mother even as she lies in bed consumed with fever). In the sister's subsequent narrative, tone and content change drastically. The birth of a favored younger sister drives the twins closer together, as does their apprehension of a hungry, menacing exterior world that looms just beyond their insular domestic comfort and threatens to snatch it away. As their bodies incestuously commingle, not only are the barriers between the two broken down but their family also becomes increasingly fragmented--as reflected in the increasing discordance and shrillness of the text. All of this comprises a superb metaphor for the political struggles in Chile, worked out with ingenious comic detail and marred only by a climactic (and repetitive) emphasis on visceral and strident sexuality that seems to be Eltit's signal weakness as a writer. For all that, a clever and original work that takes deadly aim at its several richly deserving targets.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1995
Page count: 126pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska