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The three-part debut novel from Argentine activist and writer Dolores Reyes, Eartheater is a dark coming-of-age tale which centres on an unnamed protagonist known only as Cometierra and depicts the brutality of everyday violence in a nameless Buenos Aires barrio. It’s earth-eating that gives Cometierra disturbing visions of the disappeared. And when word gets around about her abilities, everyone wants a piece of the earth.
Compelling and original, Eartheater picks up on the enduring (if sometimes insufferable) Latin American literary tradition of magical realism and runs with it, leaving an affecting (definitely not insufferable) narrative in its wake…albeit one that moves at a sometimes jarring pace between pizza parties with friends and hunts for the missing.
While her brother Walter and a cluster of other side characters add flavour, it’s Cometierra that holds down the narrative, pulling the reader along as she reluctantly obeys her calling to eat the earth and help those who ask it of her. This is enhanced by the somewhat staccato rhythm of Reyes’ writing in the original Spanish, a stylistic flourish replicated successfully by Julia Sanches’ English translation.
Related: In Conversation with Multilingual Translator Julia Sanches
Much like Arelis Uribe’s Quiltras which I read and reviewed recently, this is writing born out of the periferias, the outskirts, where people are murdered and the authorities don’t care to involve themselves. In a year when feminist movements (and right-wing governments) have continued to gather steam across Latin America, Eartheater comes as a sobering reminder of how much there is left to do and who exactly is left to do it. Though timeless in its preoccupations of femicide and impunity, it also feels very of the moment – the system continues not to give a shit and, though victims are never lacking, answers are.
This frustrating reality of state impunity is mirrored in Eartheater’s numerous and necessary narrative loose ends – real resolution is a rarity. It’s also one highlighted by Cometierra’s burgeoning relationship with Ezequiel, a policeman who comes to her for help rather than vice versa. It says a lot about the state of policing in Latin America that I had a lingering feeling of dread deep in my belly each time he popped up.
But Eartheater is so much more than just a ~book about femicide victims~ (something Reyes herself has been vocal about). For a start, there’s tons of scope for an ecocritical reading of Eartheater, a novel so inherently concerned with “the earth, open like a wound” and our disappearing connection to it. Furthermore, Reyes explicitly aligns herself with those dealing with the aftermath of femicide from the outset. Even though the plot hinges on the mysteries of the murdered and missing, Eartheater opens with a dedication to both the living and the dead; to victims of femicide, Melina Romero and Araceli Ramos, and “its survivors”.
Throughout Eartheater, Reyes actively engages with the idea that violence – especially against women – is neither intangible nor inconsequential; rather, it affects us all, seeping into the earth around us. As she writes in the opening chapter of this novel which gives voice to the desperate, uncertain tragedy of those living in and amongst violence: “only pain seems never to die.” If you want to begin to understand the lingering repercussions of gender violence in Latin America, Eartheater is a great place to start.
Buy Eartheater: Bookshop.org (US) | Waterstones (UK)
Buy Cometierra: Bookshop.org (US) | Sigilo (Arg)
Note: I requested and was provided with a review copy of Eartheater from HarperVia.
About Dolores Reyes
Dolores Reyes (Buenos Aires, 1978) is a teacher, feminist, activist, and mother of seven. Eartheater is her first and only novel to date.