Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 26, 2021

The Woman from Uruguay, by Pedro Mairal translated by Jennifer Croft

Pedro Mairal is a notable writer and poet from Argentina. The press release that came with my review copy tells me that he’s a professor of English literature in Buenos Aires, that he won the Premio Clarin in 1998 and that in 2007 he was included in the Hay Festival’s Bogotá 39 list, which names the best Latin American authors under 39.  From what I can make out from his bio in Spanish, he has won prizes, had a book made into a film, been translated in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Germany and now English, and had his own TV show about books called Printed in Argentina. (Did I mention that he’s also rather telegenic?) Amongst other accomplishments, in 2013 he published a novel in sonnets, “El gran surubí” which strikes me as being a very difficult task.

First published in 2016, The Woman from Uruguay was a bestseller in Latin America and Spain, and has been published in twelve countries.  I think it’s a book that can be taken in different ways by different readers.  The blurb tells me that it’s an unforgettably poignant story of two would-be lovers.  Colm Tóibin says it’s a picaresque comedy and a penetrating study of a man on the verge of middle age.  Sigrid Nunez says it’s a searing tale of seduction and betrayal, both wryly comic and deeply serious.  Me? I think it’s black comedy at its best.

The novella is the story of a day in the life of Lucas Pereyra, an unemployed writer in his forties.  He is being supported by his long-suffering wife who may have found ways to enliven her days. They have a young son called Maiko who Lucas uses as an excuse for not having got any writing done. On the day in question Lucas has hatched a rudimentary plan to collect an advance on books he hasn’t written yet, travelling to Uruguay to collect it in cash so that he doesn’t have to pay Argentinian taxes and kickbacks. Oh, and the other reason he sets off on this risky enterprise is because he hopes to catch up with a Uruguayan women who he met some months ago at a conference.  His fantasy of a passionate rendezvous in Montevideo is a mid-life crisis waiting to happen.

Think of all the things that could go wrong in this scenario, and most of them happen.  My favourite moment is when at the end of his catastrophic day, he gets a fever. He has no health insurance, so the private hospitals shut him out.

So they took me to the private hospital.  The horror, our great state nightmare, death guaranteed, and yet, in ten minutes they had plugged me into an IV with who knows what miracle droplets, and I started to recuperate, and they even put me under observation in a room with some other fragile saps.  Public hospital.  And here I’d been trying to avoid paying import tariffs.  (p,143)

Ah, such sad irony.

Most enjoyable reading!

Author: Pedro Mairal
Title: The Woman from Uruguay (La uruguaya)
Translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Croft
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2021
ISBN: 9781526633606, pbk, 160 pages
Review copy courtesy of Bloomsbury.


Responses

  1. Ahh, I remember mid-life crises, they were fun. And never ended well!
    Don’t some writers just make you sick, they are so clever.

    Like

    • Ah, you have to keep your sense of humour!

      Like


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