Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Invisible Mountain

The Invisible Mountain / Carolina de Robertis
Toronto: Anchor Canada, c2010.
448 p.

I received this book from Random House ages ago, and somehow didn't get around to it. But I was finally tempted by this gorgeous cover -- isn't it beautiful?? And it is a brilliant summation of the story itself; this book deals with three generations of women in Uruguay, and the cover says to me that they are three separate women yet somehow the same one at the same time. One family, three individuals.

I really enjoyed reading this once I finally opened it! The beginning is magical, with a rural family discovering their lost baby (now a little girl) in a tree, on the first day of 1900. Pajarita grows up to have a daughter, Eva, who has a daughter, Salomé. Each section of the book tells each woman's story, with the inevitable interweaving of all the characters as the story progresses. Each of the women is fascinating, although as with another "three generation" book I read last year (The Children of Mary by Marusya Bociurkiw), the middle generation gets slightly neglected in the depth of the telling -- is that the fate of all 'middles'? I ask as a middle child ;)

Still, this was a fabulous book -- complex, with a huge cast of characters who are all fully realized, even if not always likeable. The unsung star of the book is Uruguay itself, specifically Montevideo. I learned reams about the history and culture and landscape of Uruguay without even realizing it. The setting was so skillfully interwoven into the story, and such a key element in the events of all their lives, that it became just as important as the family dynamics. Of course, there are many, many dramatic events in the years that this book covers, so simply by living where they did, this family was in for some upheaval. From women's rights to civil war to gender identity and more, this story has it all. Yet it doesn't feel "issue-heavy". It feels like a sprawling family saga with lush surroundings, unfamiliar enough to me to be truly fascinating while reading. There is some movement between Uruguay and Argentina, Brazil and the US, but the primary setting is Uruguay and it is lovingly evoked.

There is too much going on over too long a period of time for a summary, but I'll try a brief explanation. Pajarita begins the book and the century, with her rural indigenous roots meshing with an Italian immigrant to Montevideo once she reaches adulthood. I think this was one of my favourite parts of the book, with the country so fresh and the magical experience of the travelling show that brought Pajarita's future spouse to her environs. Then bookish Eva, whose dreams are stifled when she has to drop out of school early to work to support the family -- and experiences much trauma and unhappiness doing so, until she finally finds love in late adulthood, in a very unexpected quarter. Salomé, faced with civil unrest in her youth, becomes an insurgent and spends years in prison (told in heartrending detail). All of these lives entwine to illuminate the tangled relationships between mothers and daughters, and between a country and its citizens.

What a book! Definitely a saga to ponder, and now to look up some history to fill in some gaps in my understanding... it's great when a novel sparks an interest in learning more about the place and events of the story. Even with more facts though, I'll always feel the characters in this book experiencing the things I'm reading about. They've defined this era for me, and will always colour anything else I learn. Definitely a great read for anyone who loves these kind of dense family stories.


  1. I am thinking I will add this to my wish list. :)

  2. I read this book when it was first released and I loved it. Unfortunately I can't remember much about it now - I think there was too much going on for me to remember the individual plot points. I don't mind - I'll just enjoy re-reading it at some stage.

  3. Kailana - it is a great example of South American fiction!

    Jackie - you're right, there is a LOT going on. I'm sure I'll have to reread in future just to keep it all straight ;)

  4. This sounds wonderful--I will be adding it to my wishlist and hopefully my library will have it! I love the cover by the way. I'm trying to read more books set in different places, and I can't think of any book I've read before set in Uruguay!

  5. Danielle - I can't think of another book set in Uruguay that I've read, either. This was very illuminating.


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