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Review: Quiltras by Arelis Uribe

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“I’ll just read one story, then I’ll go to bed,” is what I thought when I plucked Quiltras from my To Read pile on the spookiest night of the year. But this turned out to be the very opposite of a book I could just dip in and out of – within a couple of hours I’d read the whole thing.

Written by Chilean journalist and author Arelis Uribe, Quiltras – comprised of eight short stories averaging about ten pages apiece – was originally published in Chile in 2016 and has just been republished by Paraíso Perdido in Mexico. Uribe has said in other interviews that she “wrote [Quiltras] with a clear aesthetic and political goal: write like I talk, write from my barrios.” [Translation my own.] Her protagonists fulfil those goals and then some.

Each story is a window into the life of working-class Chilean women — whether queer, brown, teenaged or all the above — and the prose is chatty but crisp, fizzy with Chilean slang and loaded with the springy elasticity and rhythm of the spoken, rather than written, word. And the moment her protagonist calls a German Shepherd a “fucking nazi” in ‘Bestias’? Inspired. (If you’re not familiar with Chilean Spanish, I’d recommend googling pololo at the very least before reading Quiltras.)

Quiltras, a feminised play on the Chilean word ‘quiltro’ (meaning street mutt or mongrel), is about solidarity, female friendship, and – to my mind — the undercurrent of disillusionment that accompanies growing up. Take ‘29 de febrero’, the penultimate story in the collection, in which the protagonist is left behind in a world of paddling pools and the diary of Anne Frank while everyone around her has picked up smoking and the habit of kissing on both cheeks. Or ‘rockerito83@yahoo.es’, in which the protagonist tells us about the cyber-boyfriend she met on Napster who turned out to be nothing like she imagined. As Gabriela Wiener writes in the prologue to my edition of Quiltras, referencing the women of Uribe’s narrative world: “ellas serán las próximas feministas.” (“They’ll be the next feminists.”)

Which brings me to class, perhaps the collection’s most important theme, and that epigraph by Chilean band Supernova: “Yo no hablo ingles/ vivo en un barrio que no es burgués.” Uribe’s observations on class regularly had me cackling and cringing in equal measure, such as when the protagonists of ‘Ciudad desconocida’ stay in La Paz with a wealthy girl called Jessica, “like the Jessicas that have an English surname…an uncle who’s a senator and cousin that had been crowned Miss Bolivia”. And in ‘Italia’, which is about a brief but intense relationship between the eponymous Italia and our protagonist, when Uribe hits on the “rules” of adolescent attraction which hinges on “the law of the excess of brown girls and scarcity of blondes”. For what it’s worth, these are the stories which bookend the collection and are, coincidentally, my favourites.

All that to say, Quiltras is remarkably fun to read, despite touching on topics like family in-fighting, teen pregnancy, and pre-Instagram catfishing. I think that’s really a testament to the intimacy of the narration, one that only comes from a writer deeply familiar with the scenes she’s sketching out; you – you – are in dialogue with these women, these quiltras. And Uribe is one of them.

Buy Quiltras: Paraíso Perdido (Mexico) | Los libros de la mujer rota (Chile)

About Arelis Uribe

Arelis Uribe (Santiago de Chile, 1987) is a journalist, writer, and student of creative writing. Quiltras is her first and, to date, only book of fiction.

Other Books by Arelis Uribe: Que explote todo (Los libros de la mujer rota, 2017)

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