Amaryll B. Chanady (essay date summer 1983)
SOURCE: Chanady, Amaryll B. “Cristina Peri Rossi and the Other Side of Reality.” Antigonish Review 54 (summer 1983): 44–48.
[In the following essay, Chanady examines the unique perspective in Peri Rossi's work and argues that through Peri Rossi's prose “we get a different insight into our own experiences and the world around us.”]
The first time I saw Cristina Peri Rossi was in Paris, at a conference on Latin American Literature held at the Unesco. She was sitting between her famous Uruguayan compatriot, Mario Benedetti, and the novelist Antonio Skármeta from Chile. The three were being interviewed in front of a group of professors, whose eyes would wander from the faces of the authors to the brilliant water jugs, and occasionally to some distant point as they gave in to the drowsiness of the fourth day of lectures and discussion. What immediately drew my attention to the figure in the centre of the long table was the extreme seriousness of Cristina Peri Rossi's gaze and the liveliness of her eyes. They would rapidly sweep the audience without seeming to miss a single detail and then focus pensively on the air in front of her as if she were suddenly inspired by something she had seen, and had started to imagine an absurd and fantastic plot for her next short story. She is one of those authors who can create a masterpiece from any experience and construct a story on the basis of a single glance or word exchanged between two people.
By one of those strange coincidences that we attribute to mere chance, I happened to meet Cristina Peri Rossi again the following week in Madrid. Over sweet, black coffee in miniscule cups she told me that, like so many poets, novelists and critics, she had to flee the turmoil of an impending coup d'etat in her native- Uruguay. With only ten dollars in her pocket and no luggage that would arose the suspicion of the authorities, she escaped on a boat in the middle of the night and sought refuge in Barcelona, where she has been living for the past eleven years. Soon after Uruguay was shaken by the coup that Cristina had foreseen. In fact, she had written a short story in 1971 in which she imagined the political events that were to take place two years later. Entitled “The Rebellion of the Children”1, the story describes the “re-education” of the sons and daughters of dead or imprisoned victims of the coup. The children are taken in by the “best and most patriotic families of the country, those who, in order to destroy the dangerous seed of subversion that (they) may have inherited, like a disease in the dark room of the genes, kindly offered their services to guard (them), re-educate (them) …” (p. 104). At an art workshop and competition organized by the government, a fourteen-year-old girl creates a kaleidoscopic machine of glass tubes and sprinkling water which wins first prize. As the audience is congratulating her, she activates the mechanism of the device, which spews out streams of gasoline all over the assembly, hurling the people against the walls with its sheer force and preventing them from opening doors and windows. A flame thrown into the hall converts everything into a blazing pyre. “The Rebellion of the Children” was condemned by the authorities as well as by their opponents, who considered it unrealistically pessimistic after Uruguay's democratic past. But the author's prediction was closer to reality than they suspected.
Cristina Peri Rossi is the author of four books of poetry and six collections of short stories, the last of which has just appeared in Spain with a rather strange title—The Museum of Useless Efforts. The title story introduces us into a fascinating universe, which, by its very absurdity, casts doubt on those...
(The entire section is 1567 words.)