Ferré, Rosario (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Rosario Ferré 1942–-
Puerto Rican short story writer, novelist, essayist, critic, poet, and translator.
The following entry presents an overview of Ferré's work through 1998.
Recognized as one of contemporary Puerto Rico's most important writers, Ferré is generally credited with launching the feminist movement in the U.S. commonwealth following the publication of her first book, Papeles de Pandora (1976; The Youngest Doll). Her extensive and diverse body of work, ranging from short stories, novels, and poetry to critical essays and translations, consistently engages the stereotypical feminine myths of western culture and reinterprets the traditionally passive and subordinate status of women in Puerto Rican society; for this Ferré has been the focus of considerable controversy. Influenced by the feminist vision of French novelist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, Ferré has created aggressive, politically astute, and defiant personae who challenge and subvert the patriarchal norms of society yet embrace—indeed, celebrate—a distinctly feminine sensibility. Often compared stylistically to Chilean writer Isabel Allende, Ferré has incorporated techniques of magic realism including fragmented time sequences and multiple narrators and has interspersed elements of fantasy or myth in her feminist translations of ordinary Puerto Rican life. Although Latin American readers nearly unanimously acknowledge Ferré as their region's foremost femme de lettres, she has struggled to achieve similar recognition from an English-speaking audience, despite her award-nominated original English-language publication, The House on the Lagoon (1995), and a number of self-translations into English of her other works.
Ferré was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico—a city long considered the island's southern capital—to Luis A. Ferré, an engineer who served as the island's governor from 1968 to 1972, and Lorneza Ramirez Ferré, the daughter of a family who owned sugarcane plantations. Her parents' marriage reflects the cultural changes that occurred in Puerto Rico during the first half of the twentieth century, as industrial concerns transformed the former agrarian economy and society; this phenomenon has inspired many of her stories. Ferré mainly attended Catholic schools for girls, except during her primary education, which she completed at a Jesuit school for boys. At this time Ferré's African nanny introduced her to the classical mythology and indigenous folktales that inform her narratives. After graduating from high school, Ferré briefly attended an American college to study English literature but abandoned it in 1960 to marry Benigno Trigo, a merchant with whom she had three children and later divorced, soon after her mother's death. By the early 1970s, Ferré resumed her studies at the University of Puerto Rico as a master's candidate in Spanish literature. There, she joined the cause of Puerto Rican independence, which defied her father's political agenda, and studied with magical realism writers Mario Vargas Llosa and Angel Rama, who both encouraged her literary ambitions. Meanwhile, Ferré founded and directed Zona de carga de descarga (1971–76), a controversial literary journal that also contained inflammatory but nonpartisan political articles. As a forum for new Puerto Rican writers, the journal also launched Ferré's literary career, debuting several of the stories that later appeared in her first collection, The Youngest Doll, which she published from her new residence in Mexico. A diverse body of writings followed in rapid succession, most notably the feminist criticism Sitio a Eros (1980) and the poetry collection Fábulas de la garza desangrada (1982). During the 1980s Ferré moved to the United States, where she earned a doctorate degree in Latin American literature from the University of Maryland in 1986. That year Ferré also published her first novel, Maldito amor (Sweet Diamond Dust). Upon completion of her graduate studies, she held a professorship at Georgetown University and lectured throughout the country until 1990, when she returned to Puerto Rico. Since then, Ferré has continued to break new ground in Puerto Rican letters by addressing themes traditionally thought taboo and translating several of her own works into English. Distinguished as her first work originally written in English, The House on the Lagoon received a nomination for the prestigious National Book Award in 1996. Within two years Ferré also published another original English-language volume, the memoir Eccentric Neighborhoods (1998).
Emotionally expressive and usually satirical, Ferré's work exhibits both diversity and versatility in theme and genre. The themes of her short stories, poems, critical essays, and novels range from the plight of Puerto Rican women, usually upper-class, to the island's colonial status. Ferré's writings consistently illustrate the limited roles women play in Puerto Rican society and imagine different possibilities to achieve a new female identity. Combining elements of indigenous and European folk tales, her early writings highlight such feminist themes as the relationship among gender, race, and class, traditional literary representations of women, and the oppression of women in patriarchal cultures and their usually poignant struggle against it. The figure of a doll is a recurring motif in the stories of The Youngest Doll and represents not only women's struggles against and anger at the patriarchal system but also the concept of idealized femininity. The collection's first story, “La muneca menor,” upsets the stereotype that values women for their social prestige as wives. Housebound after a river prawn bit her, a maiden aunt of elite landowners makes life-sized, honey-filled dolls in the image of her nieces, which she presents on their wedding days, including the youngest, who marries the prosperous doctor caring for her aunt. Overwhelmed by the status of his wife, the doctor insists that she permanently sit on the balcony of their home, on display for the community to envy; the wife gradually becomes a doll. At the moment the doctor finally notices that his wife had stopped breathing, she opens her eyes and releases frenzied prawns. In “Amalia” a girl confuses her identity with that of a doll and later melts in a hot garden when she leaves her bourgeois home. In “Marina and the Lion” a bored socialite hosts a costume party, at which she disguises herself as a doll in a cellophane-wrapped box. After emerging to play an involved game of dressing and undressing that illustrates the social impositions upon women, she realizes by the end of the story that only death holds the freedom she wants. “The Sleeping Beauty” draws upon elements of the children's fairy tale and tells in a series of letters of a conspiracy between a wealthy father and a Catholic nun that destroys his daughter's ambition to become a ballerina after he arranges her marriage to a young aristocrat. The fourteen critical feminist essays in Sitio a Eros offer a series of sociohistorical retrospectives on a diverse range of women writers from Mary Shelley, George Sand, and Virginia Woolf to Anais Nin, Lillian Hellman, and Sylvia Plath. Most notable among the essays in this book is the frequently anthologized “La Cocina de las escritura” (“The Writer's Kitchen”), which involves an extended metaphor of writing as cooking. This essay presents Ferré's personal motivations for writing fiction, recounting the evolution of her first story, a history of profanity in women's writing, and her answer to whether “feminine” writing exists. The poems of Fábulas de la garza desangrada elaborate upon women's roles in society by rewriting the stories of such mythical, biblical, and literary figures as Medusa, Helen of Troy, Ariadne, Daphne, Mary Magdalene, and Desdemona. A parody of the once popular “land genre,” Ferré's first novel, Sweet Diamond Dust, outlines Puerto Rican twentieth-century history from the perspectives of four influential rich women who live through important periods of the island's change. Similarly, the semi-autobiographical novel The House on the Lagoon traces the relationship between a wealthy husband and his wife, who bicker with increasing frequency about politics, social attitudes, and the family history she is writing, which includes stories about her spouse and in-laws. An African servant also plays a role within the family dynamic. With multiple narrators and mythic effects, the novel, like Ferré's other works, underscores the link between knowledge and power, interweaving themes of race, class, gender, and sexuality to uncover the ways the past shapes the present and affects self-identity.
Commentators have often used such terms as thought-provoking, controversial, and groundbreaking to describe Ferré's literary accomplishment within and influential contributions to Puerto Rican literature. The original stories and poems of the critically acclaimed The Youngest Doll are generally credited with introducing and inspiring a new range of literary possibilities for Puerto Rican women writers to explore, most notably Ferré's feminist vision for the island and the techniques of magic realism. Similarly evincing her influence on world literature, a number of her critical essays, as well as many of her stories, have appeared in Latin American literary and feminist anthologies, while Ferré's themes also have broadly attracted the interest of postcolonial theorists. Although Spanish-speaking audiences have enthusiastically greeted each Ferré publication, including those translated from English into Spanish, the feminist writer lacks a similar popularity among English-speaking readers, despite the glowing accolades from those who have read her works—both in translation and several original English versions. Many American reviewers and scholars of Hispanic literature praise Ferré for the brilliance of her formal versatility, the craftsmanship of her magic realist narratives, and the intensity of her feminist thought. They lament, however, Ferré's relative neglect by the English-speaking public, despite her own award-nominated achievements within the English language and a growing interest in Latina fiction worldwide. “From beginning to end,” observes Patricia Hart, “whether she is conceiving stories, translating them or providing commentary, Rosario Ferré shines, and it is high time for English-speaking readers to bask in her light.”
Papeles de Pandora [The Youngest Doll] (short stories and poetry) 1976
Sitio a Eros: trece ensayos literarios (essays) 1980
Fábulas de la garza desangrada (poetry) 1982
El acomador: una lectura fantástica de Felisberto Hernández (criticism) 1986
Maldito amor [Sweet Diamond Dust] (novel and stories) 1986
El árbol y sus sombras (essays) 1989
El coloquio de las perras (essays) 1990
Las dos Venecias (short stories and poetry) 1992
Memorias de Ponce: Autobiografia de Luis A. Ferré [translator] (autobiography) 1992
*The House on the Lagoon (novel) 1995
*Eccentric Neighborhoods (memoir) 1998
*These works were originally written in English and translated into Spanish as La Casa de la laguna (1997) and Vecindarios eccentricos (1999), respectively.
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SOURCE: Foreword to Papeles de Pandora: The Youngest Doll, University of Nebraska Press, 1991, pp. ix–xiv.
[In the following essay, Franco provides a brief thematic overview of the stories in Papeles de Pandora.]
In her essay “The Writer's Kitchen,” Rosario Ferré asserts that imagination is “irreverence towards the establishment,” that it is “always subversive.” Ferré's irreverence is directed toward the class into which she was born, and beyond that to the patriarchal ties that bind the overprotected lives of upper-class women and the oppression and marginalization of working-class women of color. The heritage of slavery in Ferré's native Puerto Rico not only continues to mark the underclasses with both its concealed and not-so-concealed racisms but it has affected the telling of Puerto Rico's official history in which the people of color have been all but invisible.
The problems of Puerto Rican identity have been compounded by its anomalous situation as a commonwealth or Estado Libre Asociado—the only country in the world which is still attached to the United States without being fully integrated as a state nor fully autonomous. Puerto Rico became one of the first areas of Latin America to feel the full effects of global Americanization, to witness the massive emigration of people from the land and into the cities, first to San Juan and then to New York; it was also...
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SOURCE: A review of El coloquio de las perras, in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 2, Spring, 1991, p. 276.
[In the following review, Hintz addresses the principal purpose of El coloquio de las perras.]
Rosario Ferré's most recent book, El coloquio de las perras, is a collection of eight essays on the general topic of feminist literary criticism. The first essay, which lends the volume its title, is a fictional presentation of Ferré's personal opinions on feminist literary criticism. The second is a statement on the status of feminist literary criticism during the last decade. The remaining pieces are written autodiegetically as an explanation of Ferré's own feminist narrative.
“El coloquio de las perras” is a parody of Cervantes's exemplary novel El coloquio de las perras in which Ferré expresses her personal opinions concerning Puerto Rican feminist literature and Latin American feminist literature in general. She speaks with a respected and resonant voice in the wilderness of feminist literary criticism as she combats not only the treatment that women authors receive at the hands of male literary critics but also as she battles against the segregation of literary criticism into opposing male and female camps.
Ferré's colloquy is a skillful combination of mimetic and diegetic narrative that presents the theme of the intricacies of...
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SOURCE: A review of The Youngest Doll, in Nation, Vol. 252, No. 17, May 6, 1991, pp. 597–8.
[In the following review, Hart compares the narrative modes of The Youngest Doll and Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek, highlighting the authors's thematic similarities.]
Defiant magic feminism challenges all our conventional notions of time, place, matter and identity in Rosario Ferré's spectacular new book, The Youngest Doll, first published in Spanish in 1976 as Papeles de Pandora and now deftly translated into English primarily by the author herself. Magic realism electro-charged with feminist awareness fuels a constellation of Latin American writers I call the magic feminists-luminaries like Isabel Allende, Luisa Valenzuela and Clarice Lispector, in addition to Ferré. Latin America's male magic realists have long juxtaposed the impossible with the quotidian, so what sets these women apart is their feminist view of what we can and should call real.
A couple of quick comparisons will demonstrate the difference between classic male magic realists and Rosario Ferré's magic feminism. In Mario Vargas Llosa's Pantaleon and the Visitors, a lowly army official with a chameleon personality is transformed into Super Pimp when ordered to organize a string of prostitutes to service horny soldiers in remote outposts of the Peruvian jungle. The wit and...
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SOURCE: An interview with Rosario Ferré, in Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out, Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 1993, pp. 83–103.
[In the following interview, originally conducted in June, 1991, Ferré discusses her personal background and the nature of her writings, touching on such concerns as the advantages and difficulties of writing about the homeland she left; the role of anger and magic in her work and in Latin American literature in general; the significance of race, class, and gender as a Puerto Rican woman writer; the art of translating fiction; the relationship between autobiography and fiction; and Puerto Rican culture and politics.]
In 1974, Puerto Rican artist Francisco Rodón displayed a portrait of writer Rosario Ferré, surrounded by flames and wearing newsprint. Entitled Andromeda, the painting invokes the mythological daughter sacrificed for her mother's follies and, with her father's complicity, put on a rocky ledge to be devoured by a serpent. Andromeda was rescued by Perseus, but no one rescued Ferré when the furor arose which led to the painting.
The daughter of a former governor of Puerto Rico and a graduate student in Spanish and Latin American literature at the University of Puerto Rico, Ferré had broken a cultural taboo. In 1972, in the seventh issue of Zona de carga y descarga (“Loading and Unloading Zone”), a literary...
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SOURCE: “Porcelain Face / Rotten Flesh: The Doll in Papeles de Pandora,” in Chasqui, Vol. 23, No. 2, November, 1994, pp. 95–101.
[In the following essay, Rivera discusses various uses of the doll motif in the stories and poems of Papeles de Pandora, particularly as a means of defense against patriarchal elements for female characters.]
“En esta casa las mujeres hablan cuando las gallinas mean,” says Don Julio de la Valle to his wife in Maldito amor (24). This popular saying summarizes the silent role that has been prescribed for women in Puerto Rican social, political, economic, and religious institutions. Hélène Cixous warns us that women have been silent for a long time: “Muffled throughout their history, they have lived in dreams, in bodies (though muted), in silences, in aphonic revolts” (886). She believes that the repression of language and feminine sexuality go hand in hand and that the only way for women to have their own voices, their own discourse, is by claiming their bodies: “By writing her self, woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her … Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time” (880).
Rosario Ferré uses the doll motif in Papeles de Pandora to epitomize the passive, mute role to which women have been reduced in Puerto Rican society. Lucía Guerra-Cunningham...
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SOURCE: “Rosario Ferré's ‘La muneca menor’ and Caribbean Myth,” in Chasqui, Vol. 23, No. 2, November, 1994, pp. 102–10.
[In the following essay, Zee elucidates the references and allusions to indigenous Caribbean cultural and mythological traditions in “La muneca menor.”]
There have been numerous studies of Rosario Ferré's short story “La muneca menor,” the first piece in Papeles de Pandora (1976). While many of these studies are insightful as regards both the fantastic aspects of the work and the feminist quality which underlies it, to date no examination has been made of the indigenous cultural and mythological references and allusions which are pervasive throughout. I should like to investigate Ferré's use of Caribbean/Greater Antilles traditions, customs and mythology, which will serve to contextualize and further elucidate one of the finest stories of the fantastic mode in the Spanish language.
Lucía Guerra-Cunningham explains Ferré's often generous use of specifically Puerto Rican imagery and vocabulary, and helps us understand why the author has turned to Taino mythology in order to address twentieth-century issues and propose solutions:
el sometimiento de lo natural y autóctono … debiera ser recibido … con ira que conduzca a la acción y la rebelión. En este sentido la oposición entre los elementos...
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SOURCE: “Sitio a Eros: The Liberated Eros of Rosario Ferré,” in Reinterpreting the Spanish American Essay: Women Writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, edited by Doris Meyer, University of Texas Press, 1995, pp. 197–206.
[In the following essay, a revised version of a study published originally in Spanish in Gascón Vera's Un mito nuevo: La mujer como sujeto/objeto literario (Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 1992) and translated by Joy Renjilian Burgy, Gascón Vera identifies Ferré's contributions to a feminine principle of passion as primarily expressed in Sitio a Eros.]
In a 1987 essay, Puerto Rican author Rosario Ferré unambiguously states the political and erotic character of her work. Citing Simone de Beauvoir as her forerunner and model, she claims that love is political action that makes the full personal liberation of women possible and brings both sexes together, provided that true social and political change brings an end to love as a passive, dependent experience for women (“On Love and Politics” 8–9).
Ferré's analysis of her own and other great women's writing in her collection of essays, Sitio a Eros (Eros Besieged)1, focuses on the dialectics of the creative woman facing a patriarchal society that frustrates her need for self-realization and creation. Ferré speculates on the existential and erotic decisions of those women artists...
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SOURCE: “Blood of the Conquistadors,” in New York Times Book Review, September 17, 1995, p. 28.
[In the following review, Ruta comments on the style, structure, and characterization of The House on the Lagoon.]
“We have not given your island a single thought, and I have no information whatsoever on the place,” Teddy Roosevelt reportedly told a Puerto Rican patriot on the eve of the Spanish-American War. “I've never even known a Puerto Rican,” Stephen Sondheim protested when Leonard Bernstein asked him to collaborate on West Side Story, half a century and millions of immigrants later.
Our ignorance of the island we annexed in 1898 knows no bounds, as Rosario Ferré, Puerto Rico's leading writer, is well aware. The House on the Lagoon, her first novel written in English, may well change that. The story of the affluent and lethally snobbish Mendizabal clan begins on July 4, 1917, when Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship, and ends, in disaster, on the day of a hotly contested plebiscite on statehood in the early 1980's. This account of the Mendizabals' rise and fall is larded with enough names, dates and statistics to provide a lively crash course in 20th-century Puerto Rican history.
It's also playful, baroque and stylized, with all the elegance, brio and needling irony of Ms. Ferré's delicate, surreal short-story collection, The...
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SOURCE: “Pandora's Log: Charting the Evolving Literary Project of Rosario Ferré,” in Revista de Estudios Hispanicos, Vol. 29, No. 3, October, 1995, pp. 461–76.
[In the essay below, Skinner traces Ferré's literary development in her narrative works, focusing on her essay “La cocina de la escrita,” her short story “La muneca menor,” her novel Maldito amor, and her short story collection Las dos Venecias.]
In her essay “La cocina de la escritura,” published in 1982, Rosario Ferré describes her authorial project, her literary influences and her motivations for writing fiction. As part of this short autobiographical essay, she discusses the moment she embarked upon her career as a writer and the way she selected her initial literary theme. In choosing the subject of her first story, Ferré decided that she would focus upon an episode from the Puerto Rican past:
Pensé que lo mejor sería escoger una anécdota histórica; algo relacionado, por ejemplo, a lo que significó para nuestra burguesía el cambio de una sociedad agraria, basada en el monocultivo de la cana, a una sociedad urbana o industrial; asi como la pérdida de ciertos valores que aquel cambio habia conllevado a comienzos de siglo: el abandono de la tierra; el olvido de un código de comportamiento patriarcal, basado en la explotación, pero también a veces en ciertos principios de...
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SOURCE: “Serving Two Masters,” in Nation, Vol. 261, November 20, 1995, pp. 640–42.
[In the following review, Stavans discusses The House on the Lagoon in the context of contemporary Puerto Rican literature, highlighting its less than enthusiastic reception by English-speaking readers.]
There is a border in contemporary Puerto Rican letters that is at once mental abyss and tangible geographical gap between island and mainland, one that literature can map in astonishing detail. Remarkable books like La noche oscura del Nino Avilés, an intriguing, encyclopedic 1984 novel by Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá about religious fanaticism, set in the eighteenth century in San Juan Bautista, remain unknown and untranslated this side of the water. And like Juliá's, plenty of original fiction goes unappreciated abroad. Similarly, the work of classic English-language Puerto Rican writers like Judith Ortíz-Cofer, Edward Rivera and Piri Thomas is underrepresented on their Caribbean island of origin. A dialogue of silences, no doubt, which Rosario Ferré has intelligently managed to solve by splitting herself and her audience in two. She is a perfect embodiment of the Januslike identity of Puerto Rican literature today, faces set back to back, impossibly “loyal to two fatherlands,” as the memorialist Bernardo Vega once put it.
Born in Ponce in 1938 and educated at Manhattanville...
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SOURCE: “Constructing and Reconstructing,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. XIII, No. 5, February, 1996, p. 5.
[In the following review of The House on the Lagoon, Grossman discusses the plot, major characters, and underlying message of the novel, concluding that “The House on the Lagoon gives us a performance of great accomplishment and wit, and the sense of a world held in measured but deeply affectionate memory.”]
Rosario Ferré belongs in the company of those truly bilingual writers (Isak Dinesen was one such, Vladimir Nabokov another) whose irrepressible delight in the play of eloquence and style makes it seem that one language is never enough. In her previous volume of stories, The Youngest Doll, and now in The House on the Lagoon, Ferré has evoked both literary meaning and pleasure from the Puerto Rican predicament of a Latino culture under American domination. Her work, along with that of Julia Alvarez and Cristina García, among others of Caribbean heritage, contributes strongly to the current revitalizing expansion of American fiction by Latina and Chicana writers.
The House on the Lagoon, a National Book Award nominee, is the work of a mature artist, placing one family's history—from 1917 to the 1980s plebiscite on Puerto Rican statehood—in a dense layering of political, racial, socioeconomic and aesthetic contexts. It follows...
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SOURCE: A review of The House on the Lagoon, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring, 1996, p. 168.
[In the following review, Friedman unfavorably compares The House on the Lagoon with Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits.]
The House on the Lagoon is an attempt at a Puerto Rican House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende's 1982 novel. Indeed, the narrator's name is Isabel. Set in Ponce and San Jose, the novel follows six generations of two families from the business aristocracy of Puerto Rico and even provides the reader with a family tree. The narrator's manuscript, which she keeps hidden, is discovered by her husband Quintin who then provides the novel with some self-reflexiveness. He comments on Isabel's style and her truthfulness, offers other versions of the events, and rationalizes the misdeeds of his relatives as related in the manuscript. But because his critiques are not given much space or, for that matter, much intelligence, they are an irritation. They offer neither an alternate view nor reveal a facet of Quintin that is not available from Isabel.
Perhaps it is the comparison with The House of the Spirits invited by its title that does The House on the Lagoon the most damage. Instead of magical realism there are hints about the strange effects of the servants' potions, effects that are usually left vague. Where...
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SOURCE: “Text and Countertext in Rosario Ferré's ‘Sleeping Beauty,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 33, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. 207–18.
[In the following essay, Glenn concentrates on the form and structure of “Sleeping Beauty,” highlighting the function of its fragmented narrative and the play between texts and countertexts from a variety of media that inform the story.]
Rosario Ferré is one of a group of angry young Puerto Rican women authors who have seized the pen and wielded it effectively. Educated on the island and the mainland, Ferré is the daughter of a former governor of Puerto Rico and by birth a member of the upper-class, conservative society she satirizes in her fiction. She has acknowledged that writing is for her a destructive as well as a constructive endeavor and that she is driven by a need for vengeance and a desire to give permanence to what hurts and to what attracts her (“Writer's Kitchen” 215). The anger that impels much of her work is evident in her 1976 collection of stories and poems, Papeles de Pandora (Pandora's Papers or Pandora's Roles).1 In Greek mythology, Pandora is identified as the first woman and is given by each of the gods some power that could bring about the ruin of man. According to certain accounts, her husband, Epimetheus, opens the vessel containing the gifts and thereby releases plagues, sorrow, and...
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SOURCE: A review of The House on the Lagoon, in World Literature Today, Vol. 70, Summer, 1996, pp. 690–91.
[In the following review, Stavans characterizes The House on the Lagoon in the magic realism mode of Latin-American literature, but also praises Ferré's efforts to make her fictional world accessible to English-speaking readers. This essay is a slightly revised version of Stavans' review in Nation (20 November 1995).]
Up until the nineties, Rosario Ferré's career developed mainly on the Spanish-language front. Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1942 and educated at Manhattanville College and the University of Maryland, where she received her Ph.D., she is first and foremost a Latin American femme de lettres—baroque, portentous, savvy, erudite. This might sound anachronistic in light of her most recent novel, The House on the Lagoon, a family saga of epic proportions about European immigrants and mulatto servants which, by all accounts, was written originally in English. Not that Ferré is venturing into unknown territory. It might be her debut as a fiction writer imagining the universe in Shakespeare's tongue, but it certainly is not her first literary experiment with the language itself: in 1988 Sweet Diamond Dust was early proof of her self-translation skills, which became less workmanlike, more mature a couple of years later, when the University of...
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SOURCE: “Family History,” in New York Times Book Review, February 22, 1998, p. 16.
[In the following review, Childress offers qualified praise for Eccentric Neighborhoods, admiring the tone and style of the novel but faulting the characterization and the quantity of individual story lines.]
In recent years, the outpouring of Latin American fiction has come to seem a bit stale, a long-running show in which the literary heirs of Gabriel García Márquez (and even the master himself) must strain ever harder to dazzle us with magic-realist tricks. The most refreshing thing about Rosario Ferré, one of Puerto Rico's most influential writers, is that she keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground. No cows are seen to fly. No passionate lovers burst into flame. The magic in Ferré's fiction arises from the intertwined experiences of human beings, carrying the story of 20th-century Puerto Rico in the arc of their lives.
Ferré's first novel written in English, The House on the Lagoon, was a National Book Award finalist in 1995. Her ambitious new novel feels like a memoir rendered as fiction. The author hails from two upper-crust Puerto Rican families; her father, Luis A. Ferré, was once Governor General of the island. Eccentric Neighborhoods is the story of two fine old families, the Rivas de Santillanas and the Vernets, coming together and breaking apart, gaining and...
(The entire section is 1172 words.)