On its most literal level, “New Islands” is an account of a city lawyer’s four-day visit to an estate in the country a few hours drive from Buenos Aires. Juan Manuel, the lawyer, has been visiting at the La Figura hacienda and is part of a group of hunters from La Figura that goes to have a look at some new islands that have emerged in a lake. They stay at Yolanda and Federico’s hacienda, and the story describes Juan Manuel’s four-day relationship with Yolanda, which ends with his return to Buenos Aires. The new islands sink mysteriously back into the mud and algae out of which they were thrust. Yolanda, too, represents a mystery that cannot be fathomed rationally.
The story opens with one of Yolanda’s dreams, one of a series of nightmarish dreams that recur throughout the tale. It is not clear whether her dreams mirror reality or whether reality mirrors her dreams. Attracted by Juan Manuel, she dreams a seduction scene with him as they gaze over the pampa at twilight. The exact scene occurs at dusk the next day. In her dream, Yolanda has struggled to resist Juan Manuel’s caresses and in the mirror-image reality, she runs away. Juan Manuel is fascinated by her but baffled. She appears to be very young, yet Sylvester claims that thirty years ago, she jilted him only two weeks before their planned marriage, for reasons he has never understood. Yolanda is beautiful yet strange, frequently associated with a primeval earth of foliage, flowers, and animals. When she stands up, she seems to Juan Manuel to uncoil like a beautiful snake. Instead of walking, she glides, “pale, angular, and a bit savage,” fragile, “aggressive yet hunted.” Her feet seem far too small for her height. Dressed in diaphanous white one evening, she reminds Juan Manuel of a sea gull; she faints when he tells her so, as though he had discovered some mysterious secret.
Yolanda is associated repeatedly with camellias and with birds—gulls and magpies, for example—and with the natural world of the pampa. Made desperate with desire and bewilderment, Juan Manuel searches through the vast ghostly hacienda at three in the morning of the fourth day until he finds Yolanda, deep in a...
(The entire section is 892 words.)