Slyly pushing the envelope Aristophanes opened with Lysistrata, debut novelist Cañón exultantly sets up the saga of Colombian women on top.
It’s a humdrum 1990s Sunday in Mariquita when—poof!—all the men are gone. Yet another gang of Marx-lite rebels and Che-wannabes is fomenting yet another Colombian revolution, shanghaiing anyone with testicles into its motley ranks. Stealing off with every woman’s husband, all the rice and the town’s single Commie true believer (a schoolteacher who’d coaxed the citizenry into naming kids Hochiminh and Trotsky), the pistoleros depart. The women who remain are marvelous. Matriarch Doña Victoria has three daughters with weird, fairy-tale attributes. Orquidea boasts chin warts that “looked like golden raisins.” Gardenia gives off a “carrion-like stench.” Those two are virgins; their roguish sister Magnolia has “the legs of a man, hairy and muscular.” Doña Victoria saves her only son, Julio César, by dressing him in his sisters’ first communion dress; after the danger has passed, he decides he digs the new look and opts for permanent curls and skirts. Other vivid personalities include Rosalba, the police sergeant’s widow, who takes over as magistrate and tries to toughen up the women mourning the loss of their men. (She plans an edict: “Prohibit the use of the word ‘Help.’ ”) Joining with Rosalba, sage/crone/schoolteacher Cleotilde hopes to rewrite history and usher in a new era, complete with time told by the menstrual cycle and months renamed after Mariquita’s strongest women. At first, this fresh HerLand falters. The power goes out; famine threatens. Just as the ladies are moving from baby steps to great strides, a shocking development unfolds. After nearly 20 years, four men return. Paradise lost? Or Paradise regained?
Prime magic realism à la Márquez, Cortázar and Vargas Llosa, updated with a pop-culture twist.