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The Maravillas District.

The Maravillas District (Spanish original 1976) is the first in a trilogy of autobiographical novels that plot out the daily life of two girls on the transitional cusp between childhood and adulthood in Madrid of the 1920s. Chacel recreates the personal, political, and cultural ambiance of the times through the highly self-conscious use of memory, an intense unfolding of a multilayered and multitextured fabric whose every stitch and contour are scrutinized from various angles. Formally, dialogues between the thirteen-year-old Elena and the eleven-year-old Isabel alternate with long passages of internal monologue, in translation either using the third person or rendering the Spanish use of the reflexive pronoun (se + verb) with the English second-person you," thus lending the translation at times an almost frenzied immediacy that also illustrates the multidimensionality of both the speaking and reading subjects.

Thematically, Chacel appliques intertexts from painting, music, poetry, and myth upon her narrative, integrating them as leitmotifs and as a means to gauge and evaluate the relationships between the girls' personal and professional identities as artists. Their unfolding sexuality is also meshed in the intertextual weave of art and gender.

The last third of the novel resituates the personal in relation to historical context, interjecting the assassination of the archduke of Austria and the ensuing web of international political developments. in this final section Chacel cleverly and convincingly establishes women's intimate relation to history through the leitmotif of the tricoteuse. The structural texture of Chacel's narrative is in turn thematically intertwined in the web of interpersonal, national, and international relationships.

The author situates her novel amidst the cultural vanguard of early twentieth-century Spain; as an emphatically marked chronotope, The Maravillas District would appeal to those readers interested in Spanish cultural and literary history of the 1920s and '30s. Chacel's unique "time warp" narrative structure should engage scholars of narrative theory. Feminist readers will welcome this autobiographical work written in exile in Argentina for its thematic and structural concentration on gender and creativity. The Maravillas District is dense like pudding-thick Spanish hot chocolate: it is not an "easy read" but the power and excitement of the prose can be addicting. The English translation affords perhaps a glass of chocolate milk by comparison.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hoffman-Jeep, Lynda
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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