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Carmen Boullosa: Treinta años (Leaving Tabasco)

Boullosa’s novel looks, for the most part, to be a young-girl-growing-up-with-touches-of-magic-realism novel but then takes an unexpected twist at the end. Delmira Ulloa, the heroine/narrator, recounts her life in the village of Agustini in Tabasco, Mexico. There seem to be few men around, as she grows up with her grandmother and mother. The two adult women have their own life and Delmira is often left to her own devices, even if that includes spying on her mother’s affairs. But her grandmother is a story-teller and tells her strange stories of days gone by with pirates and easy travel to Cuba. Many of the tales have a magic realism component but so do some of the events that happen in Agustini. There is the maid who has stigmata and then dissolves in her own urine and the day the birds falls from the sky. If you have read other Latin American novels, you have probably seen it before.

While this description of her growing up – her discovery of herself and her body, her awareness of the role of religion and her sense of community – is certainly well written, you are might start wondering where this is going, when we suddenly change pace. The Army moves in and terrorises the inhabitants. Delmira is arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets. A young woman is raped and kills herself for the shame. Delmira’s uncle spirits her out of Mexico and she vows never to return. The change of pace is startling and sudden and makes for a completely different book but one that it well worth reading.

Publishing history

First published by Alfaguara in 1999
First published in English in 2001 by Grove Press