If you want to know about Venezuela, read this book by Margaret Mascarenhas. Right now Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President, is known for his resistance to the US regime and is thick with Raul (President Raul Castro) across the Atlantic, in another thorn in the gringo’s side, viz. Cuba. Venezuela is also about oil in the South East, which does not sit well with most of the ancient tribes which reside there. To the South West is Columbia – known for the drug lords and the Medelin cartel. The porous border has many almost-youth gun-running and drug-running between the two countries. To crown it all until recently most Latin American countries were ruled by ruthless dictators in the garb of government functionaries.
As can be imagined living, growing up – for that matter, being born, itself – in Venezuela is no easy task. Margaret documents all this well. Against the backdrop of preoccupations of resistance , ostensibly by FARC sympathizers (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia), the process of birthing, loving and dying goes on unabated.
The novel is divided neatly into 9 sections – each titled and about one of the characters . The chapters proceed as follows: Lily; Efrain; Consuelo; Amparo; Carlos Alberto; Luz; Marta; Ismael; Irene. The novel opens with the tantalizing detail of Irene getting lost in the forest. She was last seen with Lily her friend. What prompts this?
We are not told until the end in the Irene section when the answer is not difficult to imagine considering what is described in the intervening chapters. Irene is kidnapped by her boyfriend Moriche who she has arranged to meet clandestinely in the forest. She escapes somehow and on the run begins a life of her own, with a new name – Coromoto. However her mind has taken too much. From the womb of the intimate details of the novel we are catapulted into the antiseptic confines of the asylum
Enter Dr Martinez – a Jungian - who sees role-playing as useful to maintain mental equilibrium. ‘So, having parents like Benigno and Mercedes, do you think that’s what made me loca?’(340) Irene asks him.
As a release, Irene begins to write scripts on her own life for a telenovela-producing station. Being rejected she offers them as radio scripts. She successfully sells them to radio eight as starter scripts ‘known as enredaderas because of the vinelike nature of their narratives’(344-45). And the scripts are enacted as radio plays.
Endredadera could also be an apt description of the novel itself for its fluidic form framed by epigraphs about the passion flower – a nom de plume of Dolores Ibarruri (1895-1989), Spanish writer, communist and politician who formed the Spanish Communist Party.
As a writer who would not compromise, for me the most moving paragraph is Irene’s conviction at the end, her testament to her own life and her art. Her rejection letter is a peep into the monstrous and chilling manipulation mass media (corporateTV stations) indulge in – even now:
Your script has been rejected. Too raw, too weird, with too many old people. Too much narration in the background. We make telenovelas, not art films. We’re in the business of happily after. We fabricate dreams.
For future reference, there should be only two central characters destined to fall in love, and everything in the story should revolve around that. Make them young, more contemporary, give them sexier names . . . Consuelo and Ismael are too antiquated; our viewers don’t want to see old people in love. It’s a turn-off. (344)
But the piece de resistance is this:
She is neither able nor willing to comply with the terms of the TV producers, to rewrite the beings culled from the imperfect, twisted, but nevertheless beloved fragments of her own psyche and experience. While she has no issue with fantasy per se, she cannot write lies or characters who have no souls. In her present life she can no longer pretend that everything crazy is exotic (344).
Margaret Mascarenhas, The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos (New York: Grand Central, Hachette, 2009)