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Sara Gallardo: Enero (January)

The book opens with a family of farmers in Argentina. Father Don Pedro recently had a riding accident and is not in good shape. His wife Doña Maria, three times his size, runs the farm. They have three daughters. The oldest one is Porota, recently married. Alcira is the prettiest one. The youngest and focus of this story is Nefer, just sixteen, who does not seem to get on with her sisters. There is also Juan who works for them. At the dinner, the others are talking about the harvest and the neighbouring farmers. Nefer, however, has her own concerns. She is three months pregnant and no-one but her knows.

It is, in her view, all the fault of Negro Ramos. She had first seem him at the rodeo in the town, where she had gone with her family. Negro was dashing and a fine horseman and Nefer had immediately taken a shine to him. He, of course paid little attention to her. However, she was so fascinated by him that she noticed little else.

The next time she saw him was at Porota’s wedding. She was sure that he would come so she had spent a lot of time preparing herself. However, her mother had a lot of work for her to do at the wedding, so she could only watch in fury while Negro spent his time dancing with Delia and she, Nefer, was helping her mother. If only Nefer’s nails had not been worn down to the nubs from so much work; if she had not been the sister of the bride; if instead she had been someone else, she would have ripped Delia’s face to shreds.

Gradually, her anger rises and when she sees Negro and Delia dancing some more, she dashes off into the woods in her anger. It is there that she meets the drunk Nicolas , a large man and a railway worker. Gallardo gives us no details of what happened but it is clear that he raped Nefer. Nor does she give us details of when Nefer realised that she was pregnant.

The book tells us of Nefer’s understandable concerns about what will happen. Disgraceful. I’m disgraceful. I’d be better off dead. Yes. Better off. I’d be better off if I died right now.

She does not want to tell anybody. She tries going to the local witch doctor to ask for help but backs off at the last minute. Should she tell the priest? But he may tell her mother or godmother.

Every year there is a religious event called mission to which priests come and hear people’s confessions. She knows that if she fails to confess everything and then goes to mass immediately afterwards, she will likely burn in hell. However her mother will make assure she does both.

And she is till interested in Negro. Whenever she goes to town, she looks out for his buggy and is disappointed when it is not there.

Fortunately her mother had noticed nothing. What she has noticed is that someone had vomited in the yard but Nefer denied that it was her, though it was. She barely eats and her mother is worried that she is too thin. Doña Maria is too concerned with the household, her ill husband and running the farm to worry about her troublesome, lazy daughter.

However for Nefer: I thought maybe if I got on a horse and galloped fast enough, maybe if I worked hard enough, maybe if I slept deeply enough, when I woke up it would be gone … I thought if went to see that, that person, I could… if I went to see … Maybe if God helps me …

Gallardo tells us an excellent of an unfortunate young woman who, through no fault of her own, is pregnant and has no idea what to do or who to turn to for help. Abortion is not an option as it is illegal and a sin and, anyway, she would not know what to do. She has no close friend to turn to, a mother who is preoccupied with other things and a godmother who might be sympathetic but might not. In short, we can only watch as she grows increasingly concerned, though all the while hoping that Negro may somehow help.

Publishing history

First published in 1958 by Editorial Sudamericana,
First English translation in 2023 by Archipelago
Translated by Frances Riddle and Maureen Shaughnessy