The first English translation of Argentinian surrealist Ocampo's debut book.
By any account, Ocampo is an underrecognized literary innovator. Born in Buenos Aires in 1903, she trained as a visual artist under the tutelage of Giorgio de Chirico in Italy but returned home to launch a career as the lucid chronicler of Argentina's characters, colors, and drifting seasons. Her legacy is often overshadowed by her association with her sister, the well-known editor Victoria Ocampo, her marriage to acclaimed novelist Adolfo Bioy Casares, and her friendship with Jorge Luis Borges, but Ocampo's short vignettes—determinedly dreamlike, constitutionally opposed to traditional structures, quietly feminist in their focus on domestic menace and the underrecorded lives of women, children, and the laboring class—hold their own as masterworks of midcentury modernism. In her debut collection, originally published in 1937, Ocampo introduces the reader to singular characters like Miss Hilton, the world-traveling tutor undone by her apparent lack of modesty, who "blushed easily, and had translucent skin like wax paper, like those packages you can see through to all that's wrapped inside"; or Mademoiselle Dargere, the caregiver to a "colony of sickly children," who is haunted by the vision of a man's head wreathed in flames; or Eladio Rada, the caretaker of a stately country home who measures the seasons of his life by the house's relative emptiness. Ocampo's landscapes are just as central to the stories' thematic development as her unforgettable characters. Set on the streets of Buenos Aires itself, in the decaying summer homes of the country's interior or the fishing villages along its coast, Ocampo's stories lovingly detail the landscape that nurtures, haunts, or condemns her characters within the spiral cycles of their lives. Often these stories culminate in dreams or dreamlike violence—as in "The Lost Passport," in which 14-year-old Claude dreams of the fire that sinks her trans-Atlantic ship, or "The Two Houses of Olivos," in which two young girls take advantage of their guardian angels' siestas to escape to heaven, "a big blue room with fields of raspberries and other fruits," riding on the back of a white horse. Sometimes Ocampo's play with surrealism and metaphysical symbolism is more overt, as in "Sarandí Street," in which the speaker's entrapment in her family's house is blamed on her sisters, "dying of strange diseases," who emerge from their rooms with "their bodies withered away and covered in deep blue bruises, as if they had endured long journeys through thorny forests." Indeed, it is Ocampo's skill with the blurred line between dream and memory that marks her oeuvre and distinguishes her from contemporaneous masters of the modernist vantage like Virginia Woolf or Katherine Mansfield. Yet regardless of the author's historical importance, it is for the precise and terrible beauty of her sentences that this book should be read.
A masterpiece of midcentury modernist literature triumphantly translated into our times.