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Summary and book reviews of Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis X
Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis
  • Critics' Opinion:

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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2020, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the highly acclaimed, award-winning author of The Gods of Tango, a revolutionary new novel about five wildly different women who, in the midst of the Uruguayan dictatorship, find one another as lovers, friends, and ultimately, family.

In 1977 Uruguay, a military government has crushed political dissent with ruthless force. In an environment where citizens are kidnapped, raped, and tortured, homosexuality is a dangerous transgression. And yet Romina, Flaca, Anita "La Venus," Paz, and Malena--five cantoras, women who "sing"--somehow, miraculously, find on another and then, together, discover an isolated, nearly uninhabited cape, Cabo Polonio, which they claim as their secret sanctuary. Over the next thirty-five years, their lives move back and forth between Cabo Polonio and Montevideo, the city they call home, as they return, sometimes together, sometimes in pairs, with lovers in tow, or alone. And throughout, again and again, the women will be tested--by their families, lovers, society, and one another--as they fight to live authentic lives.

     A genre-defining novel and De Robertis's masterpiece, Cantoras is a breathtaking portrait of queer love, community, forgotten history, and the strength of the human spirit. At once timeless and groundbreaking, Cantoras is a tale about the fire in all our souls and those who make it burn.

Excerpted from Part I

1977-1979
I
Escape

The first time—which would become legend among them—they entered in darkness. Night enfolded the sand dunes. Stars clamored around a meager slice of moon.

They would find nothing in Cabo Polonio, the cart driver said: no electricity, and no running water. The cart driver lived in a nearby village but made that trip twice a week to supply the little grocery store that served the lighthouse keeper and a few scattered fishermen. There was no road in; you had to know your way. It was lonely out there, he remarked, glancing at them sideways, smiling to bare his remaining teeth, hinting, though he stopped short of asking any questions about what they were doing, why they were traveling to this of all places, just the five of them, without a man, and it was just as well because they wouldn't have had a decent answer. The trees gradually receded, but clumps of brush still reared their tousled heads from the smooth slopes as if just being ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Examine the symbolism of the Prow. Why do you think they choose to name it as they do? In what way is life at the Prow the antithesis of life in Montevideo? How does each woman use the house and Cabo Polonio to heal and expand? In what ways do the beach and the shack fulfill a different need for each woman while still proving their common need to be themselves?
  2. Discuss Paz's first sexual encounter with Puma. Why does she insist that they cannot understand when she recounts the story to her friends? Are the other women right to judge and label the encounter? How does Paz come to view this early experience when she is older? What does she mean when she thinks to herself, while working in La Piedrita, "What I can't give to Puma I will give ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Cantoras is a self-assured masterpiece that despite its anxious moments proceeds at the unworried pace of a leisurely seaside stroll. At times the complicated multi-character plot feels fragmented, like several broken pieces piled on top of one another, but this fragmentation eventually resolves into a whole, resulting in a sensation like waves moving over one another...continued

Full Review Members Only (633 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

O, the Oprah Magazine
Every line of this gorgeous and grippingly adventurous tale sings with lush, aqueous beauty.

New York Times
The great success of this novel is that it shows how tyranny, even if you can hide from it by living a quiet life, is a thief of joy and love...De Robertis’s precise, chilling insight into the daily agonies of life under a dictatorship rivals Ariel Dorfman’s...De Robertis’s prose is most moving when it’s direct and unembellished, but her metaphors can be heavy-handed...Cantoras is bold and unapologetic, a challenge to the notion of “normalcy” and a tribute to the power of love, friendship and political resistance. It’s a revolutionary fable, ideal for this moment, offered with wisdom and care.

San Francisco Chronicle
Sweeping and utterly breathtaking...De Robertis’s writing is reason alone to read this book. Like her fierce characters, her words pry and pull at the essence of not only what it feels like to be thwarted, condemned or quarantined because of your beliefs and identity, but also what it means to be a vulnerable yet empowered, infinitely beautiful and fully alive woman.

Publishers Weekly
De Robertis does a fine job of probing the harsh realities of what it takes to carve out a life of freedom under an oppressive government.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Rich and luscious, De Robertis' writing feels like a living thing, lapping over the reader like the ocean...A stunning novel about queer love, womanhood, and personal and political revolution.

Author Blurb Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award winner and author of Red at the Bone
Carolina's writing, as always, blew me away. Cantoras is a stunning lullaby to revolution—and each woman in this novel sings it with a deep ferocity. Again and again, I was lifted, then gently set down again—either through tears, rage, or laughter. Days later, I am still inside this song of a story.

Author Blurb R. O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
Cantoras is a wise, brilliantly compassionate, wide-ranging novel about women in Uruguay, and about the power and realities of love. Carolina De Robertis is a force: prepare to be astonished.

Author Blurb Cristina García, author of Here in Berlin
A lyrical, richly sensory novel about a group of renegade cantoras—slang for queer women—who claim a beach refuge during the worst years of the dictatorship in Uruguay, and beyond. Together they steal time from oppression of all kinds, unspooling the infinity of themselves. Pointedly relevant to our own dangerous age, Carolina De Robertis has gifted us a majestic work of song and imagination, a handbook to survival for us all.

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Beyond the Book

The Uruguayan Military Dictatorship (1973-1985)

Juan Maria BordaberryThe small country of Uruguay (about the size of Missouri) is bordered by Argentina to the west, Brazil to the north, and the Atlantic to the south and east. Military rule began there in 1973 following a coup conducted in cooperation with then-president Juan María Bordaberry (1928-2011), and lasted for the following 12 years. During this time, the Uruguayan military committed numerous human rights abuses, and at one point held the largest percentage of political prisoners in the world.

The years leading up to 1973 set the stage for the events that produced the military regime. In the late '60s, the Tupamaros, a leftist revolutionary group, gained influence in Uruguay during a time of poor economic conditions and public unrest. Jorge ...

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