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Invisible Mountain, The

by Carolina De Robertis
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Publishing date: 25/08/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780307271631
  • ISBN: 0307271633


Book Description
From the verdant hills of Rio de Janeiro to Evita Per?n’s glittering Buenos Aires, from the haven of a corner butcher shop to the halls of the United States Embassy in Montevideo, this gripping novel—at once expansive and lush with detail—examines the intertwined fates of a continent and a family in upheaval. The Invisible Mountain is a deeply intimate exploration of the search for love and authenticity in the lives of three women, and a penetrating portrait of the small, tenacious nation of Uruguay, shaken by the gales of the twentieth century.

On the first day of the year 1900, a small town deep in the Uruguayan countryside gathers to witness a miracle—the mysterious reappearance of a lost infant, Pajarita—and unravel its portents for the century. Later, as a young woman in the capital city—Montevideo, brimming with growth and promise—Pajarita begins a lineage of fiercely independent women with her enamored husband, Ignazio, a young immigrant from Italy and the inheritor of both a talent for boat making and a latent, more sinister family trait. Their daughter, Eva, a fragile yet ferociously stubborn beauty intent on becoming a poet, overcomes an early, shattering betrayal to embark on a most unconventional path toward personal and artistic fulfillment. And Eva’s daughter, Salomé, awakening to both her sensuality and political convictions amid the violent turmoil of the late 1960s, finds herself dangerously attracted to a cadre of urban guerrilla rebels, despite the terrible consequences of such principled fearlessness.

Provocative, heartbreaking and ultimately life-affirming, The Invisible Mountain is a poignant celebration of the potency of familial love, the will to survive in the most hopeless of circumstances, and, above all, the fierce, fortifying connection between mother and daughter.

A Q&A with Carolina De Robertis

Question: When did you first have the idea to write The Invisible Mountain? Was there a particular event or idea that was its genesis?

Answer: Books often begin out of the need for a text that does not yet exist. It is difficult to pinpoint a single moment when this book began. Though it took eight years to write, the search for it started many years before.

I began as a gatherer of stories. When I was twelve, my father told me all the stories he knew of our family, reaching back to great-great-grandparents in Italy. He was going through a personal crisis, spurred by his own father’s death. My grandfather had been a distant, eminent parent, and my father had spent his whole career trying to emulate him, only to learn upon his death that he had written his children out of his will. Years later, my father would repeat history by disowning me for not conforming to his views—but for now, he poured out stories, hoping that one day I would turn them into a book. He chose me to tell, rather than my siblings, because, he said, I was the one most like his mother, the poet, who was said to be crazy, and who always loomed enormous in our family as the prototype of what an artist is and what a woman should never be. I listened to the stories and carried them inside me like radioactive seeds.

When I was thirteen, I managed to find Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, and others who exploded open new universes of what a story could be, and how it could be told. My fate was sealed as both a very nerdy teenager, and a person indelibly in love with the written word. But over the years, I couldn’t find one thing I was looking for: a novel that could open the gates to Uruguay, a country at the root of me, that I knew little about, and yet that was essential to knowing who I was. In my mid-twenties, I became obsessed with the idea of writing a book about Uruguay, as a way of understanding this country I hungered for and longed to know; I awakened to the possibility of writing my way back into a heritage I’d lost. I didn’t have to look far for a place to begin: the seeds had been waiting for years.

The novelist Annie Dillard has said it beautifully: “There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

Q: Where does the title The Invisible Mountain come from?

A: According to national lore, the name “Montevideo” comes from an early Portuguese sailor who, on sighting the land that would become Uruguay, called out “Monte vide eu,” or “I see a mountain.” The great irony in this story—which is something of a national joke, as well as a potent parable of this little nation’s self-perception—is that the city of Montevideo lacks elevation. The mountain the man was referring to is actually a low, unassuming hill. I see the themes of this story running though the characters’ lives as they hunger and strive for intangible entities they cannot see.

The title also resonates for me because I see this book, in a sense, as a sprawling love letter to Montevideo—a salute to a small, inimitable city that, against all odds or visual evidence, dares to bear a name that evokes mountains. I have always lived in regions where no one knows about the tiny nation of Uruguay, where people rarely know how to find it on a map—it often feels, globally speaking, like an invisible place, as so many smaller nations do in an increasingly globalized world. Perhaps Uruguay, itself, is the invisible mountain, the complex and stunning terrain that goes unseen. I don’t think writers hold monopolies on interpretation; readers have just as much right to unfold meaning in a text, so I leave it for them to decide.

Q: Why did you decide to make this story a generational saga following the lives of three generations of women over 90 years?

A: The shortest, most direct answer is that this is the book that needed to be written, the book that insisted on coming through. I’m not sure that I ever made such a decision; it feels more as though the story chose me.

It’s certainly true that, among the family narratives I inherited, the women’s stories fascinated me the most. The men in my lineage tended to leave an elaborate oral legacy, while the women were often glossed over with a sentence or two. It seemed to me that there must be a great deal of treasure buried in that silence, and the beautiful thing about fiction is that it can recreate such treasures, even when the factual details have been lost forever.

Creating room for women’s unheard voices has also been a passion of mine beyond the world of fiction. In my early and mid-twenties, in the period when I began writing this book, I spent five years working as a full-time rape crisis counselor. I founded a program for Spanish-speaking Latinas, and listened to over a thousand rape survivors and their loved ones as they delved into and grappled with their experience with sexual assault. I simply don’t have words for how much I learned from my clients, both about the harrowing traumas they endured and the immense resilience they drew on to survive and recover. While none of their individual stories are told here, they taught me more about violence, silence, and human strength than I could have found in a hundred libraries, and I could not have written this book without them.

Q: The Invisible Mountain is a story about family and the power of love and legacy. Yet it also a gripping portrait of a nation very much shaken by the upheavals of the twentieth century. There is much actual history that runs through this novel—from the early days in Montevideo to the days of Peron in Argentina to the Tupamaros revolutionaries in Uruguay. Did you have to do any research into these events, or was much of it drawn from embraces of family who lived through them? Do you have family still living in Uruguay now?

A: I did an enormous amount of research. I went to many libraries, pored over books, and consulted with people who knew more than me. Toni Morrison, whose historical novels are a great inspiration, once said, “I’m just trying to look at something without blinking, to see what it was like, or it could have been like, and how that had something to do with the way we live now.” It was incredibly important to me to look the history of Uruguay in the eye, without blinking, and do my best to explore its implications for everyday life through the worlds of my characters.

I have a wonderful extended family in Montevideo, and my cousins Andrea and Oscar were particularly generous with information, conversation, and help finding the answers to strange questions—not to mention a place to stay. I also drew on friends in Montevideo, like Evelyn, who gave me a stack of history books that proved immensely valuable. I also have an amazing extended family in Buenos Aires, on my father’s side. The last time I visited them, they sent me home with a huge suitcase crammed with books; the customs agents were floored. I’ve been using those books to develop my second novel.

(Photo © Joanne Chan)

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  • Devoured this book in two sittings, sorry to see it end
    From Amazon

    This is a book that starts off with a whisper of a story rather than all-out drama but where the reader is quickly rewarded for sticking with it. Invisible Mountain has Gabriel Garcia Marquez's lyrical writing style and Isabel Allende's rich detail, sense of adventure, and political observation. I hate to label it as female-centric because this is as much a book for men as it is for women but it's a sad fact that retelling history through the eyes of women will usually get you labelled as a writer with a feminist agenda. If you like fast-paced stories, enjoyed anything by Isabel Allende or are enamoured with Latin culture and history, then you'll love this story about Uruguay, the tiny country with a big history, as seen through the eyes of three ethereal yet ultimately strong women. My only critique is that one particular character acted too maturely for her young age, but I disagree with reviewers who said all the male characters were presented as brutes. The men are just as enigmatic and multi-layered as the women, not clearly good or evil, only as selfish as just about any real human being.

  • Bloated, Soulless Drivel
    From Amazon

    It's been a long time since I've despised a book this much. I don't even know where to begin. What this book lacks in subtlety, artistry, and innuendo it more than makes up for with crude and meandering prose. The concept sounded intriguing: A first-time novelist writes a trilogy of stories, connected by family lore and following three generations of Uruguayan women, with concomitant historical/political commentary. The ambitious plotline starts out in an Isabel Allende-inspired fairytale, with the title character, "Parajita" introduced. I say "inspired" by Allende, who is a master storyteller. Unfortunately, with the plethora of mostly unlikeable characters with endless prattling and internal dialogue for each, I felt half-mad before the book even began in earnest. I withheld my skepticism and read ahead, sighing as I was then entrained into a Venetian gondola maker and his complex family history, who then immigrated from Italy to Uruguay. Lest I forget, Parajita's brother is introduced as a happy-go-lucky drummer, yet another pastiche of "passionate Latinos"; as you can see the story takes many twists and turns, and history takes a second seat to a bawdy, drawn -out and melodramatic love stories. For the first chapter, the only historical references was a passing mention of WWI along with an early, revered leader of Uruguay. I was exhausted and a bit fatigued by the time the second installment was met, "Eva" which folllows Parajita's daughter's travails and move to Argentina, not surprisingly in the time of the Peron-helmed revolution. "Eva" seems to have been inspired by the real-life figure of Eva Peron down to the tango dancing and marriage to a wealthy man. I was literally numb by the time the final and most loathsome chapter was unveiled. Salome is a revolutionary (ostensibly a member of the Tupamaro guerilla movement) who suffers horribly as a political prisoner. If this book tried to have every female-abuse plotline in an Oprah book-of-the-month club, it has succeeded beyond measure. I do not shy from reality, or turn from the truth of an often cruel and vicious world. However, I choose to not wallow in it. As Oscar Wilde so meaningfully said (paraphrased), "We are all born in the gutter but some of us choose to look up at the stars". This book lolls in the gutter, its attempts at historical reference are pathetic, and its long-winded and painful prose feels like punishment. I ended up learning virtually nothing about Uruguay, except for countless stories related to the naming of Montevideo (the capital), some generic national pride sentiments and a few careless paragraphs describing the smell of the streets. Fitting since the author was never raised there and took three trips to her "homeland". The complexity and shock factor of many of the stories did not intimidate me; the feckless rendering of three generations was trite and tiresome, with no real emotion. A pity. I believe the word in Spanish is "corazon" ; this book had none.

  • A beautiful must-read...
    From Amazon

    Carolina De Robertis has created a phenomenal first novel which is woven as beautifully as poetry. I was moved to find out more about the author and delighted to see she pulls from Garcia Marquez and many other notable Latin writers. I feel motivated to go back and actually finish 100 Years of Solitude, which in discussing this novel (with an Argentinean who has read it in Spanish), found out there is a parallel in how both authors span the gammut of nearly a whole century. Since my traditional education in the States was not very detailed when it came to South America, I felt I learned so much about the rich culture of Uruguay reading this wonderful novel. I am really looking forward to her next novel which I had read would have a focus on Argentinean history.

  • Okay, then gets great!
    From Amazon

    To me, this book started off a tad slow, but it did get better before the half way mark. I did appreciate the fact that it did show what REAL LIFE is or was like for people living in South America (Buenos Aires) and the struggle for alot of those citizens to get out. This author also includes the family aspect that is very deep within Hispanic families. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in other cultures, and anyone who wants to know what life is like for those that live there (South America).

  • All women are heros, all men are brutes.
    From Amazon

    The novel is written in almost sensual poetic language that envelopes you into the world the author so skillfully creates. I was practically holding my breath reading some passages, they were that beautiful; but I found it very difficult to connect and to relate to characters, especially women. All the characters had somewhat "fairytale" quality, they seemed to exist in order to drive the story forward, to relate to us author's ideas about the world she was describing, but for me they had no roots in reality. What bothered me the most was the "type casting" of male and female characters: women were the long suffering females who at one point or another suffered abuse from male family members, man at one point or another were terribly abusive drunks or wife beaters. The characters drifted through their lives more so than made consious decisions. I think it is important to mention here that after reading half of the book I had enough, and went back and forth through the pages of the second half trying to find a reason to stick with the book. It never happened.

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