free women of the pampas

“The Adventures of China Iron” (Las aventuras de la China Iron), by Gabriela Cabezon Camara, translated from Spanish (Argentina) by Guillaume Contré, L’Ogre, 256 p., € 20, digital € 5.

At 14, China Iron is already married with two children. This Indian orphan, who lives in a village in the Argentinian pampas, in the XIXe century, suddenly finds herself freed from her shackles when her husband, Fierro, a gaucho who is also a singer, is recruited against her will for military service, along with all the other men in the hamlet. She has only one idea then: to leave. Alone, or at least with the puppy she just adopted. The opportunity is given to him when the wife of one of the conscripts, Liz, a Briton, decides to cross the country to recover her own husband, a « gringo », unduly enlisted since he is subject of Queen Victoria. Liz also intends to take possession of the estancia (the farm) that the man must administer on behalf of an English lord.

It is aboard the cart of this determined woman that China takes her place. Alongside the “Redhead”, the young woman will experience a real initiation: to travel, to love and to sensuality (in Liz’s arms), as well as to the realities of a world she was far away. to imagine.

Whimsical and queer odyssey

Gabriela Cabezon Camara revisits the Argentinian founding myth of the gaucho by performing an entirely feminine – and feminist – reinterpretation of Martin Fierro (1872), epic poem by José Hernandez (1834-1886). The joyful adventures of these two women across the pampas, alongside another gaucho met on the way, echo, in a funny and subtle way, those of this literary hero who, recruited by the army to fight the Indians, deserted to finally join one of their communities.

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It is a whole whimsical and queer odyssey that the novelist proposes, revealing the magnificences of the deserted pampas, its changing colors and its unexpected crowds of animals, which she details with treasures of poetry, in a lively and luminous writing.

Under the new gaze of young China, a whole unexplored horizon unfolds, as if she in turn became one of the pioneers of a country then in full construction. Through the descriptions of England that Liz gives her at the same time, in a tasty sabir of English and Spanish, the novelist points out, with irresistible humor, the Europeans’ appetite for conquest on these lands still to be cleared, to the contempt for indigenous people. But all his talent is due to his way of reversing perspectives by making this journey the place of upheaval of convictions and ambitions.

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