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The first time I heard whisper of Linea nigra, I was listening to Jazmina Barrera speak alongside Eula Biss in the garden of the Centro Cultural Elena Garro in Mexico City. Throughout the talk, her eyes kept flitting over to her toddler, who was in the audience. She mentioned a book she’d been working on. About motherhood, she said.
In a book about motherhood by Jazmina Barrera I find this quote: “Imposible ser original escribiendo sobre maternidad.” [“It’s impossible to be original when writing about motherhood.”] Just a page later she references the need to “leer libros delgados, que pueda sostener con una sola mano” [“read slim books, that you can hold in just one hand”], and I’m reminded of my interview with Isabel Zapata in which she says much the same thing. Yet I disagree; it’s entirely possible to be original when writing about motherhood.
Both essay and novel, although not entirely one or the other, Linea nigra charts the pregnancy and maternity of Jazmina Barrera via a series of fragmentary ruminations and assertions—reflective of the interruptions that demarcate your days as a mother—over a period itself fragmented by the 17S earthquake and other maternal devastations. In her characteristic style, which oscillates between the intensely personal and the carefully researched, Barrera weaves a narrative of motherhood where “la magia está espolvoreada en la incomodidad” [“the magic is dusted in and amongst the discomfort].
“Lo escribo yo pero se escribe solo” [“I’m writing it but it’s writing itself”], Barrera says in and of Linea nigra, which goes some way to explaining the sheer liquidity of her prose, both crystal-clear and in perpetual motion. But like most bodies of water, this is a deceptive ease, one that’s marked by a profundity of intellect and research. You will always come away from a Barrera essay knowing more than you did before. Did you know babies are born without tears?
There’s something monumentally soothing about this book with its subtle precision and gentle observations, which makes it all the more amusing when she throws in lines such as: “te vale un reverendo cacahuate si suena Rammstein o Bach.” [Translation not necessary; this one speaks for itself.]
Lineage, much like the linea nigra that cleaves Barrera’s pregnant stomach, splices itself indelibly though Linea nigra too. Family lineage is spun like a silken web throughout, as is an artistic lineage. In incorporating writers and artists who dialogue with maternity into her work, Barrera aligns herself with that very same esoteric family tree of women and in turn elevates her writing to what it is: art. It also reiterates just what motherhood is too: work. Barrera’s mother—an artist herself—seals together the two halves of the whole.
She writes of a friend: “Le digo que no escribe poemas y no me cree.” [“I tell her that I don’t write poems and she doesn’t believe me.”] I don’t either.
Linea nigra is a rallying cry for motherhood to be taken seriously, for a maternal canon. In putting forth this rallying cry, Barrera also delivers a prime example of why one should exist. There’s a specific word that I typically can’t stand, which crops up sporadically throughout Linea nigra—delicioso, or delicious—and that’s what the reading experience was. Delicious.
Buy Linea nigra: Almadía (Mexico)
About Jazmina Barrera
Jazmina Barrera (Mexico City, 1988) is an author, essayist and co-founder of Ediciones Antílope, with a degree in Creative Writing from NYU.
Other Books by Jazmina Barrera: Foreign Body/ Cuerpo extraño (Literal Publishing, 2013), Cuaderno de faros (Pepitas de calabaza, 2019), Punto de cruz (Almadía, 2021)