- Gabby Womack
Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Representation: Latinx - Uruguayan, Paraguayan, Sapphic love, Jewish
Content Warnings: Dictatorship, Homophobia, Rape, Imprisonment, Suicide, and Conversion Therapy
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 each other and then, together, discover an isolated, nearly uninhabited cape, Cabo Polonio, which they claim as their secret sanctuary. Over the next 35 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 each other–as they fight to live authentic lives.
This novel had everything I love about historical fiction! I learned about Uruguayan history while de Robertis dove into the experiences of the cantoras and paid tribute to those who lived through all of it. Before reading this, I had no knowledge of Uruguayan history to begin with so it was a whole new world. Now, I know enough to begin searching out more information on my own and/or find more books on this history. I enjoy historical fiction because of its power to spark curiosity in me.
Then, she'd cracked open their secret. Obedience did not protect you. In which case, why bother obeying? Why not resist?
Despite the brutality of the topics in this book, de Robertis wrote so beautifully, especially when describing the women and their home away from home. I loved being able to sit within each woman's mind as they were all distinct. The character development wasn't drastic, but it was still noticeable. It was a pleasant surprise to see how lighthearted these women could be with one another and how accepting they were. They were comforting!
This book was heartbreaking but also hopeful and inspiring.
I highly recommend it to History professors/students, historical fiction lovers, and folx interested in LGBTQ+ experiences/history.