Today’s featured book will be The Dark Bride by Laura Restrepo, from the beautiful South American country of Colombia!
If you’ve watched any episodes of Narcos on Netflix, I know you’re getting super excited right now.
I’m not sure I can give a better description that what the back of my copy says, so here goes:
“Once a month, the refinery workers of the Tropical Oil Company descend upon Tora, a city in the Colombian forest. They journey down from the mountains searching for earthly bliss and hoping to encounter Sayonara, the legendary Indian prostitute who rules their squalid paradise like a queen. Beautiful, exotic, and mysterious, Sayonara, the undisputed barrio angel, captivates whoever crosses her path. Then, one day, she violates the unwritten rules of her profession and falls in love with a man she can never have. Sayonara’s unrequited passion has tragic consequences not only for her, but for all those whose lives ultimately depend on the Tropical Oil Company.”
Guys. This is every bit as good as it sounds like it’s going to be.
Like any good Latin American novel, The Dark Bride is full of magical realism that makes scenes worm inside the readers skull, through the many wrinkles and crevices of the brain, losing and regaining their original shapes and meanings until you can’t quite seem to come to a conclusion as to what actually happened, after all.
Usually a good example of magical realism would be the ending of a book, but I REALLY don’t want to ruin this one for you. I had a difficult time choosing a scene that didn’t feel like it was giving too much of the story away, while still capturing the vaporous spirit of the story that I want to portray. I think particular scene does the job well enough:
“One elusive morning, bathed in the perplexing light of an eclipse, beautiful Claire, the ethereal traveler, left this world into which she had perhaps never finished arriving. Her passing through Tora was sad and fleeting, like the shadow of someone who is present without really being there and who is not aware of the laws of gravity. Her death, however, fell upon La Catunga with the full weight of the calamity. It took everyone by surprise, leaving the barrio suspended between horror and shock and bringing to the fore how little we natives know of the foreigners who live among us. It doesn’t matter that ten years, or twenty, pass: The outsider is still a stranger – in good measure suspicious – who has just arrived. Of Claire one could think, in accordance with her pale beauty and the fleeting lines of her character, that she rose in body and soul to heaven in the ecstasy of an assumption, like the Virgin Mary. But it wasn’t thus; hers was an earthly and brutal death.
‘One foul day Claire threw herself into the path of the train,’ Todos los Santos tells me. ‘Don’t be alarmed, it was a common means of death among the prostitutas of Tora. Many of them killed themselves by the train out of despair, or loneliness, or indifference. Sometimes simply out of weariness or pure drunkenness. Never before three in the morning or after five, and all at the same spot: the corner they call Armería del Ferrocarril, in the poorer part of the barrio Hueso Blanco.’
Now there’s a gas station located there, and a car repair shop and a stand that sells newspapers, snacks, and drinks, just like on any other corner on the planet. But Todos los Santos assures me that if you watch carefully, you can see people still making the sign of the cross as they pass that corner, because they know they are stepping on unholy ground: the site of immolation.
According to tradition, Claire’s remains were gathered up in a cart and taken to the place where she had lived…Todos los Santos was summoned to the deceased’s room…She was to carry out the compassionate act of arranging the cadaver’s parts as lifelike as possible inside the coffin, officiate over the ceremony of closing the eyelids, and, to the degree it was possible, cross the arms over the chest, wrap the body in a shroud, and cover the head with a veil of silk lace.
‘My heart shriveled when I entered that place,’ she tells me. ‘Claire was one of those who earned the most from her work; she saved what she earned and had become a rich woman. If she didn’t live like a queen it was because she didn’t want to, and because she always believed that she was here temporarily.'”
I thought this book was one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my entire life. I definitely cried at the end. And I’m not even sure what happened! SEE WHAT I MEAN ABOUT CONCLUSIONS?! Ugh. It’s rough life.
Overall, a highly, highly recommended book. There are several scenes, like the one above, that just haunt you afterwards. The writing is beautifully tragic, haunting, and almost spiritual in its language. Honestly, I can’t say enough about this book – except GO READ IT! Go go go!
What other books have scenes that haunt you long after you’ve finished reading them?