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Carmen Boullosa: La Milagrosa (The Miracle-Worker)

Boullosa continues her magic realism in this book about miracles but also about corruption and poverty in Mexico. The novel starts with the discovery of a body, which has a tape recording and some notes about the work of the Miracle Worker, in her own hand. In her story, she briefly describes her work. People come to see her (free of charge) in one of the poorer districts of Mexico City and she intervenes with God to get them what they wish. She does this through dreaming it. The bundle also contained testimonies by various supplicants, many of whom had been victims of brutality (spouse/parent/political/work). Many of them are women, though by no means all. She is able, for example, to have a man who lost a leg get his leg back, though many of the requests are more realistic. The people of her neighbourhood support her (and make money by selling food, drink and advice) but she makes nothing from her work.

When we get to the tape recording, the plot becomes more complicated. The narrator and, presumably, the corpse (though that is left unsure) is a detective working for the textile union (Boullosa takes the view, as most independent commentators do, that Mexican unions are corrupt). He has been given a task to destroy the miracle worker, as her work is interfering with theirs. While waiting to see her, he meets a well-to-do man who has also come to see her. This man – married, of course – is having an affair with a younger woman and is concerned about their age difference. He asks the miracle worker to make him appear younger. He agrees that it is only for the benefit of his lover and she says he will appear younger to her but not to anyone else. The lover subsequently only meets him in the dark and thinks he is younger but is unsure. She, in her turn, asks the miracle worker to make her look older. Meanwhile, the detective has fallen in love with the miracle worker (and got her to stop his drinking, something he later regrets).

Things now are going from bad to worse. The old lover turns out to be Felipe Morales, not only a very rich man but also a presidential candidate (he subsequently wins) and the miracle worker realises that she has been tricked. The detective’s minder is brutally killed. The cousin of Morales’ lover is beaten up, probably because the attackers think that she is the lover. In short, things get nasty and violent. Exactly who is killed and who survives is left open. It is not important for Boullosa, who is more concerned with showing the corruption in Mexico, particularly the corruption surrounding the unions and the deals concerning the presidential elections. Of course, this book was written in the shadow of the Salinas presidency and the corruption surrounding his election and Boullosa was clearly influenced by those events. It is an unusual novel both in treatment of the subject and style but one well worth reading.

Publishing history

First published by Ediciones Era in 1993
First published in English in 1994 by Jonathan Cape
Translated by Amanda Hopkinson