by Cecile Pineda

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Critical Context

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Face was Cecile Pineda’s first novel. It was not, however, her first creative effort; for many years previous to the book’s 1985 publication, she had been an experimental theater director in San Francisco. This theatrical background permeates the novel in many ways. To act in the theater is to play a part, to disguise one’s normal self. Often, as in classical Greek and Japanese drama, this is manifested literally in the use of masks. Pineda’s familiarity with drama enables her to understand how even the everyday human face both expresses and masks emotions, how it is both messenger and barrier between the self and the outer world.

Pineda has seldom written about explicitly Hispanic subjects. In both Face and The Queen of the Amazon (1992), though, she does write about the culture of Brazil. The Brazilian setting of these works enables a dialectic of the strange and the familiar whereby Pineda is able to displace issues that other Latino writers might treat naturalistically onto a more stylized and metaphysical plane. Even in novels that have no thematic relevance to Hispanic experience—such as Frieze (1987), a compelling work concerning a medieval Buddhist temple in the East Indies island of Java—Pineda continues to highlight themes, such as the fortitude of the individual against all external obstacles, that occur in the rest of her work.

This emphasis on identity and self-affirmation could be read as obliquely referring to American minority experience. Both Face and Frieze are taut and parabolic works in which images and themes prevail over conventional narrative. In The Queen of the Amazon, though, Pineda displays a looser, more sprawling style that permits a more panoramic view of human experience.

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