Marvel Moreno: En diciembre llegaban las brisas (December Breeze)
I have read quite a few feminist novels where men do not come out well, usually with considerable justification. This book, whose characters are just ordinary (Colombian) people, not soldiers, revolutionaries, police officers, terrorists or major crooks, has a series of men who are seriously flawed human beings and, in particular, seriously flawed in their dealings with women, more so than in any other novel I have read about ordinary people. To be fair, many of the women are flawed, too, either because they follow the traditional patriarchal role models or because they seem to accept flawed men as acceptable.
Our main character is Lina and, though this is not a first person narrative, we tend to see much of the action through her eyes. She seems to get on well with most people in her age group and keeps in touch with the older generation.
We open with the tale of her friend Dora. Dora’s grandfather, a man from a distinguished family, arrived at the house of another distinguished family, saw a twelve year old girl there and proposed immediately. Six months later they were married. He promised not to have sex with her till she was sixteen, a promise he immediately broke, with dire consequences, though one of the consequences was Eulalia, who would be Dora’s mother. Eulalia’s mother eventually drove everyone male (staff but also animals) off the property and passed on her hatred of men to her daughter. Eulalia tried to keep Dora away from men. Her husband had not been a success. When she finally rose from her sickbed after giving birth to Dora, she found her husband having sex with the maid. She got her revenge but it did not help her views of men.
Men had always found Dora attractive but, perhaps inevitably, she starts off with an obnoxious married man and then moves to another awful man. His mother was Italian and had been a keen devotee of Mussolini. This woman met an exotic Colombian man in Italy, married him and came back to Colombia with him where she realised he was not exotic. She christened her son Benito and flogged him mercilessly for the slightest transgression. Dora was attracted to Benito but when he finds that she is not a virgin, he beats her up but she still marries him. His behaviour does not improve with marriage (the mother of his child should not take pleasure in the marital bed like some hooker), either towards Dora or anyone else.
The second story concerns Catalina. At the beginning of the novel we learn that there are three friends at school: Lina, Catalina and Dora. Catalina has a colourful mother, Divina Arriaga. Lina’s grandmother says that there are two types of women: those who accepted male dominance in the name of love, children or security and those strange, vulnerable, fugitive women, who flew through life with their wings outstretched . Divina is the second. She had been in France but returned to Barranquilla when she inherited a large fortune. The Barranquilla bourgeoisie did not approve of her and felt she was in league with the devil.
Catalina was pure and impervious to evil and everyone liked her. However, she marries a psychiatrist, Alvaro Espinoza, who, is of course, far from perfect and we get another miserable marriage Then there is Beatriz who sincerely believed in the virtues of obedience: submitting to the orders of her elders till she catches her father having sex with another woman. The litany goes on: the girl raped by her grandfather when she was ten; the Nazi family fleeing Europe at the end of the war but who retain both their vicious anti-Semitism but also a strong level of cruelty towards both humans and animals, and the revolutionary who may be a Marxist but is no feminist or humanitarian.
Moreno spares us none of the details and tells us quite a few long stories about these people. While most of the men are distinctly unpleasant – cruel, racist, sexist, selfish, demanding and determined that they have a divine right to do what they want, there are a few exceptions. There is, for example, the very rich revolutionary who suffers a lot for his cause and ends up a Hari Krishna as well as Lina’s father, a good and decent lawyer. They tend to be in the minority, however.
The women are very varied. There are those that have come to hate men, often with good cause. There are those that go along with the patriarchal system, because that is how they were brought up and accept the suffering that it brings. There are also those like Divina who try to be a free woman but who risk paying a price for doing so as the patriarchy turns against them. Lina is an interesting case. We learn relatively little of her own life (though we do learn some things) as most of the time she is, as it were, a witness to what happens to her various friends and relatives. The theme might be summed up in the words of Lina’s Aunt Eloisa: Men had invented an aberrant organization whose principle and aim were to dominate women: whether she was an innocent or guilty accomplice, woman’s victimhood cleansed her of any responsibility. There is no doubt that Moreno tells quite a few excellent intermingled stories here and there is no doubt a lot of truth in what she says.
First published in 1987
First English translation in 2022 by Europa Editions
Translated by Isabel Adey & Charlotte Coombe