Chiesa: “My protagonist has the mission of growing up between tenderness, madness and pain’

Mónica Chiesa is a teacher, oral narrator and French tarducer.

Although it was written in 2012, long before the consolidation of the feminist movement “Not one less”, the novel “Las Vicentini”, by Mónica Chiesa, it anticipates the proposals against the mandate of motherhood and the alliances between peers to narrate loneliness and the abandonment through a small-town story in which the reader enters through the eyes of a girl.

“A family story can become the portrait of an era”, defines the critic and writer Silvia Hopenhayn from the back cover of this story where the protagonist girl colors the events with tenderness and legend and is able to feel like the queen of the “Titans in the ring” and to assimilate Perón with King Arthur.

About this possibility and about the anticipatory capacity of this novel published by De la Comarca, which was a finalist for the Clarín Prize in 2012, the narrator, French teacher and trainer, spoke with Télam in a dialogue in which she displays as much poetry as in her novel .

-Télam: As in “The House of Rabbits” by Laura Alcoba, you narrate a story from the eyes of a girl… What does that look bring to the novel?

-Mónica Chiesa: The look of Olivia, the protagonist, is the look of a girl who seeks to understand, who plays the “I see, I see” of words trying to look, to scrutinize those secrets kept under lock and key. I love literature narrated from the voices of childhood, in fact, I teach Laura Alcoba’s work in both French and Spanish, and many of the novels I work on in my workshops have that voice. I feel that it is a voice that says from a distance and from estrangement, a voice that can generate a renewed word. Everything is resignified through Olivia and her “titanic” mission, that of following the tracks, picking up the words from the dictionary and growing up between tenderness, madness and pain.

– T.: How is the female universe of “Las Vicentini” where there is sisterhood but also mandates passed down from generation to generation?

-MC: Olivia is the daughter of many women, starting with her grandmother Azucena, a woman who tries to sustain a world that is in perpetual change, a world that distances her more and more from her beliefs, a grandmother who shelters her daughters, a grandmother who is a huge hen willing to face anyone, who is planted in her discursive construction, who is not afraid of the paper. She can tour the churches, pick out the lice and look for Ema Vicentini at the headquarters of Argentine television. Olivia is the daughter of many women, the daughter of her aunts, each one carrying her frustrations, her renunciations, her yearnings. And she is the daughter of Ema, the passionate one, the wishful one, the one who puts her passions above all else.

It is incredible that we speak of “sorority” because when I wrote the novel (in 2012) that term did not exist, nor did other forms of mothering exist: the woman had to be a mother and give herself unconditionally to motherhood. How is it possible not to want to be a mother? Ema wants to and she doesn’t, in the novel a character was put together for me. Nothing binds Ema. I never thought that when the novel was published, at this time, the writing of 15 years ago could have led to a character so current, that she resonated in this way. The Vicentini drag their mandates, their rules, and yet, at some point they were willing to run away from those rules. There is a language of their own among them, a history that shelters and unprotects them, that includes and expels them.

The author was a finalist for the Clarn Novel Prize with Las Vicentini
The author was a finalist for the Clarín Novel Award with “Las Vicentini.”

-T.: How are the men in that story, between blurred and idealized?

-MC: Olivia considers herself part of “a family of women.” It seems that there is clearly a border between Las Vicentini and men. As if they could do without. And in turn they are necessary for Olivia. Those men from their places, perhaps blurred, overshadowed by the empowerment of these women, teach Olivia things “of life itself.” Her uncles, each driven by their ideals, their dreams, their practices. Each one embodies something that is fundamental for Olivia: the land, science, dreams. Then there are other men, more secondary characters who revolve around the girl, bringing her some sporadic wisdom. For example, the Red Knight teaches her something about herself, “you’re a little bug of light”, he tells her, and also teaches her something about Ema, so that Olivia can learn to protect herself from a mother who can devastate her. But, without a doubt, the most important of all those men is Arturo, the smuggler, the one who will have a place for Olivia as “her mom’s boyfriend”. Arturo who will transmit her love for Perón, will tell her legends, will search with her for the uncertain and indefinite of her life.

-T.: There are other literary references in the novel…

-MC: First for me there is a monumental reference that is “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. When I wrote “Las Vicentini” I was very influenced and I think my novel is her daughter. In Irving’s world, the female characters are absolutely monumental, true buildings capable of holding up against the greatest catastrophes. Irving’s epigraph speaks of the function of literature, “to keep everyone alive forever.” Then there is also that other epigraph that has to do with the construction of memory, more precisely with recollection, an epigraph taken from “The General in His Labyrinth” by García Márquez. Are there true memories? I don’t think so, all memories are stories we make up. And of course, there is that other literary monument that is “The Great Gatsby” because, what man can Ema desire if not Gatsby? A man that you can look at from afar, who waits on a marble staircase, but also a man that you can let go of. And in turn, now chatting I realize: Gatsby is a colossus, in the sense that the titans are, mythological beings, dragged by passions.

-T.: You mentioned the titans, because there are also references to popular culture, programs and television series that make up a kind of “fresh” of the time…

-MC: Of course! Las Vicentini is nourished by popular expressions, popular foods and TV programs. They are novel women. In the sense that in the end it is not clear whether they are dreamers, like that image of Mia Farrow watching the film and entering it by the sole force of her illusion in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” by Woody Allen, or if they themselves are the characters in the novels they watch. Do they watch the novels? Or do the novels exist because they are watched by the Vicentini? In any case, the fictional discourse of television, programs and series, is at the service of creating a bridge between the conflicts that are narrated in the world of television and the drama that they live.

– T.: What is the place that TV had at the time?

-MC: In my own house, the television was in the kitchen, which was the place where everything existed, very close to the table. I remember doing homework listening to TV. I remember that my mother knitted at night accompanied by Narciso Ibáñez Menta. Those memories fueled my search. No one could miss an episode of “Love has a woman’s face.” I wrote the novel with a dynamic like “delivery”, like chapters of a series, in each meeting with my classmates and classmates, with my teachers, Esther Cross and Hugo Correa Luna. In each meeting, when I arrived with my new chapter, the TV would turn on and we would pray that there would be no power outage…

-T.: Although the references to the time are repeated, they are narrated from the eyes of the protagonist, who can assimilate Perón with King Arthur…

-MC: I wanted the time to come through television and through Olivia’s eyes. Clearly in the novel there is talk of Perón’s exile, and the legends surrounding his return, that is why there is also that dream where Oli identifies Perón with King Arthur, bringing to fiction the place of the legendary, who is a legend? ? Peron or King Arthur?

Another element, we could say colossal, is the arrival of man on the moon, which is narrated by different gazes, the gaze of Azucena, of the parish priest. I really like the structure of “Las Vicentini”, that intertwining between fiction and reality. How the characters of history become novel characters and how the characters of the novel enter history.

-T.: What is the repercussion that the work had?

-MC: What happened to me is the surprise of discovering that the novel dialogues with the readers. I have received photos of a colleague who underlines a paragraph and puts it in “conversation” with a French novel. And the most extraordinary thing is to live the literary fact as an experience: I received voice messages, even images of the book, that “write” the last chapter, that receive the blank page as an invitation to continue writing. That’s why the Vicentini shine on their own. They keep lighting up after you close the book.



Chiesa: “My protagonist has the mission of growing up between tenderness, madness and pain’