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Alfredo Pareja Díez Canseco: Las tres ratas [The Three Rats]

We first meet the three Parrales sisters, when they are on a boat going to Guayaquil. There are problems with the engine, the boat shakes around and the other passengers are showing signs of panic. The three sisters remain calm. We learn that the three sisters are the unmarried daughters of Don Antonio Parrales, a former military officer who had fought with Ecuadorian president Eloy Alfaro. Both Don Antonio and his wife are now deceased and the three women have been left on their own to run the farm Don Antonio purchased for his retirement. Don Antonio had been killed by a snake bite when visiting his abandoned cacao plantation.

The three sisters – Carmelina, the oldest, Eugenia and Ana Luisa, the youngest – had struggled with the farm. They had faced many problems, including their cattle suffering from rinderpest and flooding. None of the three had married though Eugenia was very close to a local politician called Ernesto Carbo but decided that she did not love him. In the end, they had had to borrow money at a high rate of interest from a local landowner. However, with the problems they faced, they were unable to pay it back and the landowner seized their farm.

Shortly before they left, Eugenia went to the landowner’s house and stole some jewellery. The other sisters were initially unaware of this. They arrive in Guayaquil and go and stay with their aunt Aurora. The following day the police arrive to arrest Eugenia. She is initially put in prison but Aurora manages to persuade the local governor to release her. Despite this, Eugenia tries to commit suicide but is saved in time.

Eugenia then runs away and tries to look for work but without any success. She is rescued by a young man, Carlos Alvarez. She stays with Carlos and rarely leaves the house. One day, when she does leave the house, she meets the doctor who treated her after her suicide attempt, and he tells her that Aurora has been concerned about gossip so that her two sisters have now moved to a separate flat paid for by Aurora. Carmelina has managed to find work as a seamstress.

When Eugenia returns home, Carlos interrogates her about where she has been and when she refuses to answer, he hits her. She sees the doctor again and he takes her back to her sisters. Meanwhile, the other two sisters have both met men, Carmelina having met Vicente Zavala and Ana Luisa having met Francisco Pereira. When the three sisters are out with the two men, Carlos reappears and insults them, calling them the Three Rats. A fight nearly occurs but the sisters stop it. The nickname the Three Rats will stick.

When aunt Aurora dies, to their surprise, she does not leave them any money, leaving it all instead to charity. Ernesto reappears and he and Eugenia start up their relationship again. However, it does not work out well and it ends with Eugenia shooting Ernesto. Fortunately she does not kill him.

Things continue to go badly for the sisters. Carmelina is very ill, Carlos blackmails Eugenia over the shooting of Ernesto and Eugenia gets pregnant. This is not a book with a happy ending.

Whilst similar, the three sisters have their differences. Eugenia consistently makes poor choices. Carmelina tries hard to make something of herself but ultimately does not succeed. Only Ana Luisa manages to to have a reasonably happy relationship. Pareja Díez Canseco tells a brutally honest story, which shows the plight of women on their own in Ecuador at that time, i.e. the early 20th century.

Publishing history

First published in 1944 by Losada, Buenos Aires
No English translation