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El albergue de las mujeres tristes.

Marcela Serrano's El albergue de las mujeres tristes is reminiscent of the Renaissance pastoral novel, in which aristocrats disguised as shepherds and shepherdesses seek refuge in bucolic surroundings from the tribulations of love and the pressures of the city. In Serrano's novel, women weary of hardship and conflict seek refuge in the albergue de las mujeres tristes, inn for sad women, on the island of Chiloe, where they console themselves and each other and seek to replenish their energies. While the albergue accepts women of all backgrounds, the most prominent characters in the novel are upper middle-class professionals; they include a historian, an economist, an actress, a journalist, and a politician. All feel rejected by men. All--even the most beautiful and successful--feel unloved and in some way inadequate. The protagonist, an attractive young historian, is coping not only with amorous complications but also with the cancer of her younger sister, Dulce, who eventually dies.

The early pastoral features dialoghi d' amore, dialogues of love, in which each character expresses a different attitude toward the erotic. Some characters defend love as divinely inspired, others as a biological necessity, others as a pleasure, while still others--the desamorados--reject love altogether. Likewise, Serrano's characters articulate diverse opinions on men, marriage, commitment, sex, and children. The masculine point of view is presented by Flavian, the local doctor, who left Santiago for the island after a sticky separation. Angry, bitter, hurt, and vulnerable, Flavian at first lashes out against Floreana, then recognizes the injustice of his position and backpedals. The male character provides balance by showing that in the war between the sexes, men as well as women suffer and fall victim to manipulation.

The Renaissance pastoral usually revolves around a wise-woman (recurrently named Felicia), who resolves the characters' problems through the use of potions or spells. In Serrano's modern version, psychiatry has replaced magic. Elena, owner of the inn, is a therapist who works with her "guests" to restore their self-esteem and help them to learn to cope with life's demands. A wealthy and well-connected woman, Elena has at her disposal politicians, clerics, doctors, and other people of influence who are willing and able to intervene at her request.

Serrano's novel reflects a new trend in Latin American fiction. Many of today's writers are less interested than their predecessors of the boom generation in structural and narrative experimentation. Instead, they are concerned with relationships: the couple, the family, parent-child bonds, friendship, the community. Among the women in the albergue strong ties form. At the same time, other ties--some sturdy, some fragile, some damaged--are revealed, as each woman tells her story. The women's tales speak to the infinite variety of female erotic experience. Just as in the Renaissance dialoghi, every type of love is represented--from conventional marriage to lesbianism, from sisterhood to mother-daughter attachments--thereby creating a complex emotional landscape or a kind of erotic kaleidoscope. But lovelessness is articulated as well. Some women have opted for celibacy, others prefer casual encounters, still others yearn for a more permanent relationship. Some long for their children, but others resent their children.

El albergue de las mujeres tristes has much to recommend it. Serrano's descriptions are poetic and moving, and her exploration of the psychological dimensions of her characters is intriguing. Furthermore, her depiction of a community of women in which the inhabitants are truly devoted to one another will gladden many feminists.

In the early pastoral, characters told stories that thrilled the reader with descriptions of shipwrecks, seductions, betrayals, and acts of heroism. It is not surprising that pastoral romances were among the bestsellers of their time. However, in comparison with the pretend shepherds of long ago, Serrano's characters' stories seem prosaic. No one will doubt that these women are grappling with serious and difficult issues, and no one will fail to see that their world is very much like our own.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1998
Previous Article:A Tale of Two Gardens.
Next Article:Octavio Paz.

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