Modern life in the barren foothills of South America, as told by a journalist working from a deeply subconscious perspective.
Possession—both physical and literary—is at the heart of this newly translated 2005 work by Argentinean author Cristoff. Her place is Patagonia, the storied, once-thriving region located in both Argentina and Chile, where the end of the 1990s oil boom left a trickle-down effect of economic misery. Her approach is to become a ghost, to inhabit the lives of the people left behind, to see through their eyes an upended world in which mental illness, suicide, and orphans have become the norm. “The stories came to me,” she writes, “the atmosphere used me as a ventriloquist.” Style is perfectly suited to subject; she travels in a land where real meets surreal and curses, superstition, myth, and mysticism are woven into the fabric of everyday life. We meet Leon, a formerly prosperous merchant owner who now deals with schizophrenia and his wife’s tuberculosis, which may have been caused by environmental contamination. “But anyway, here, where there are more dogs than people, who’s going to take the trouble to think about citizens and their rights. They barely even admit that there are people,” writes Cristoff. There is also Francisco, a former pilot who now does little more than putter around in his shop. The longest and most impressive story belongs to Martina, whose life of suicide attempts and abuse grows to a quietly powerful conclusion when she meets the father who abandoned her. In Las Heras, the town that “defined Patagonia as a place akin to the netherworld,” a rash of teen suicides puts Cristoff in touch with Sandra, a psychic who becomes increasingly lost in her own troubled world.
Unique, imaginative, and unnerving, this is travel literature with a magical realist touch.