Sunday, September 30, 2012

“Perla” by Carolina De Robertis, reviewed by Charlene Jones

Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, June 2012, 235 pages, $25.95

Take a slice contemporary history. Combine it in equal measures as a love story, a coming of age story and a story of the friction and love between parents and children. Now as the blend rises, see the whole as a tale about Argentina’s Dirty War; see the book as De Robertis revenge for the exile of her Argentinian ancestors, see the story as a statement of redemption and rebirth against all possible human horror and you have Perla. 

Sublime writing falls from page one of this riveting tale. Alone in her parents’ home Perla discovers a stranger has entered but there is no sign of where or how he got in. De Robertis describes her protagonist’s sensations: “I could not feel my limbs, I was all wire and heat, the room crackled with danger.”

Any place you read this novel breathes with true imagination.

This ability to make her writing breathe with life guarantees her a place among the great stream of South American writers such as Borges, Gabrielle Marquez and Isobelle Allende.
For example, writing of something as commonplace as books, she suggests: “These are not books that open often, nor do they want to. On the contrary, they seem to say to their own words, you are captives, we won’t let you out, you cannot fight us.”

The books then become conveyors of De Robertis’s main theme, the horrific oppression of some Argentinians during the Dirty War.

It is difficult to write about one’s love affair with books and writing without sounding false, or syrupy. De Robertis celebrates her love of language, unselfconsciously, and with elegance. Consider her description of reading from the lips of the protagonist: “The words seep right into your mind. They pour into your secret hollows and take their shape, a perfect fit, like water...”

The symbol of water dominates the book. Water as grave, water as sustenance, water as imaginative cauldron and ultimately water as womb.

Breadth of vision and the ability to construct tension from the first page maintains the drama as the events wind and twist through each step taken toward the inexorable truth about Perla, her parents, her lineage and her country. It is a journey well worth taking. 

Charlene Jones has two books of poetry to her credit, as well as several individual poems published in many North American magazines, and is at work on her first novel. In addition, Charlene writes for the Musselman’s Lake Residents Association website (here), is the Musselman Lake Correspondent for the Stouffville Free Press. You can read some of Charlene’s poetry here and here, reviews here and here, and a short personal essay here.

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.


  1. What is "contemporary history"?

  2. contemporary history refers to recent history, not for example medieval.


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