Fearless

Tertulia, vol. 12

Hola. This is Barbara. This week I have some news for you about the Bolivian writer María Virginia Estenssoro, Colombian editor Pilar Reyes, and the Schindler sisters of Galicia. Vamos.

María Virginia Estenssoro and Bolivia’s literary avant-garde

The Cambridge History of Latin American Women’s Literature describes María Virginia Estenssoro (1903-1970) as a “transgressive writer, manifesting her radical discrepancy with the suffocatingly conservative paceña upper class” of her time. Due to her radicalness she was left out of the literary canon of her country and has only recently been recognized by scholars and literary critics. Today, critics recognise that her first collection of stories is key to understanding the avant-garde movement in Bolivia. However, she remains largely unknown, because it was impossible to find her writings in bookshops or libraries. For that reason, the independent publishing house Dum Dum (Santa Cruz, Bolivia) has republished the three stories of her first book El occiso (The Deceased). When the book was published in 1937, it sold out almost immediately, but mainly because of the scandal it provoked in the society of that time. Nobody talked about the literary merits of the stories. The work depicted a love affair outside of marriage and a voluntary abortion. The scandal grew so big because the narrating voice sounded autobiographical. Estenssoro did not publish any other book during her lifetime. This does not mean that she became a complete outcast. She continued to write columns for magazines and newspapers or teach at the National Conservatory. Furthermore, she was director of the Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional from 1950 to 1957. Here are two good introduction into her life and works: one in form of an essay, another one in form of a video.

Both are authored by Mary Carmen Molina Ergueta.

Pilar Reyes, from Bogotá to Madrid

Pilar Reyes is perhaps one of the most important persons in the literary world of the Spanish language. She bridges the literary worlds of Spanish America and Spain very elegantly. Born in Bogotá, she has been living in Madrid since 2009, currently in her function as editing director for several Spanish publishing brands. Among them is Alfaguara, which was founded by Spanish writer and nobel prize winner Camilo José Cela. The company is now part of the Penguin Random empire. The yearly Alfaguara Prize, which goes to an unpublished work of fiction in Spanish, is a prestigious literary award of the Spanish-speaking world. Many of the winners mention their editor Pilar Reyes in their thank-you-notes. She prefers to stay in the background, however, but a recent interview with her in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo sheds a light on her work and life as an editor, especially what it means to work with writers like Mario Vargas Llosa, Laura Restrepo, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Juan Gabriel Vásquez or Pilar Quintana. I guess she has probably done more for the distribution and recognition of contemporary Colombian literature than any living Colombian writer. Again, if you prefer video as medium, you may watch this interview with her (it is from 2015).

How Lola, Amparo and Julia Touza established a rescue network for Jews

Few outside of Spain know the story of the three sisters Lola, Amparo and Julia Touza Domínguez who operated a rescue network for Jews from 1941 to 1945.

It all began in 1941, in the small kiosk that the three sisters ran at the Ribadavia train station, some twenty kilometres from the Portuguese border. One day, Lola Touza met a man who had been sitting for hours on a bench at the station. Lola approached the stranger to offer her help and he told her that he had escaped Nazi Germany. Thus, began a clandestine network that started in the Pyrenees and ended on the other side of the River Minho, in Portugal. It turned Ribadavia into an important logistical center to help Jews escape the Holocaust. They hid the refugees in their kiosk (where there was a dug-out) or in the basement of their house, until it was safe to cross the border and reach Portugal. Other people collaborated with them to ensure the escapes. Estimates say that the sisters saved around 500 Jews. This article resumes the story of the three brave sisters in Spanish. I got to know the story thanks to this twitter thread by @relatandohisto1.

It will take some time to make the sisters as famous as Oskar Schindler. Their Galician Wikipedia entry mentions plans about taking their work to Hollywood. Anyhow, with or without Hollywood, the Touza sisters are another excellent proof that each of us can make a difference if we wish to do so.

This is all for this week. If you would like to comment one of the news snippets or have a suggestions, please, let me know. I’ll be back in two weeks. Hasta pronto.

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