The Body Remembers

When political activist Carmen Rodriguez became threatened in the military chaos of 1973′s military coup, she and her family narrowly escaped Chile alive. When she continues to speak out about human rights violations in her Chilean homeland, the consulate confiscates her passport. Thus begins her 14 years in exile.

With her first book of short stories, and a body to remember with, Rodriguez recounts this exile though thinly veiled narratives about women in transition conflicted by both history and familial politics. In many pieces, Rodriguez attempts to map the emotional terrain of dual geography. She’s a writer caught between two worlds-Canada and Chile-and though she’s aware of it she can’t help but let one slip away at times. In the first piece, “black hole,” the protagonist struggles with the hurried move to Canada and the strange new customs that it exposes her to. She clings to her homeland and memories of the women she left behind. Pages later, as when she learns that she is to be allowed to return to Chile, she must confront the reality: she has become a citizen of Canada and has grown accustomed to its people and mores.

Rodriguez-who also authored Protracted War- weaves together a tapestry of themes about displacement and activism, sensuality and pain, recollection remembrance and estrangement.

She does it all in a beautifully transcendent manner without battering the reader with her own ideology. Though Rodriguez was allowed back into Chile in 1987 (when the Vatican persuaded the Chilean government to clear its “blacklist”), it’s obvious she’s still a woman drawn to and repelled by her homeland.

“To this day Chileans are suffering from collective amnesia,” she says. “The country is now a model of how things can change and they don’t want to remember how it happened. They don’t want any rocking of the boat.”

Rodriguez seems determined to rock that boat.

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