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Write On Ottawa: Spanish-language novel is captivating

By Apartment613 on June 25, 2015


Post by Ramón Sepúlveda

Ottawa-based author Camila Reimers will be in the Byward Market selling and signing books this coming Sunday, June 28 and  on July 4, 10 and 18.  The following post is an edited version of a longer book review by Ramón Sepúlveda that was presented at the official book launch.

The National Capital Region is filled with many wonderful authors who write in various languages.  Among them is Camila Reimers, an award-winning writer who was born in Chile but who has lived in Canada since 1980.

While she writes in Spanish, two of her books have been translated into English: her novel Three Lotuses in a Sea of Fire, and her short-story collection Chakra Number Eight: Tales of Humour and Soul.

Her most recent novel, which is currently available only in Spanish, is De conventos, cárceles y castillos (“On Convents, Castles and Prisons”).  This story consists of an ongoing, internal dialogue between the main character, a woman named Sonsoles who lives in Chile, and Sister Theresa of Avila, one of the most influential thinkers of the Catholic Church who lived during the 16th century.

In this book, Reimers allows us to follow Sonsoles in a search that traverses her entire lifetime.  It comprises five essential blocks: her early years in a convent; her pairing with a communist militant; her years of meditation and exploration; her short, middle-class marriage; and the significant visit to Avila, Spain.

Before long, we find a tender, innocent story of love, after Sonsoles tests her feet outside the convent. It is the era of the naïve years of pre-Allende Chile, and the tragic/ill-fated days of Pinochet that would end by fracturing that innocence in a 1973 military coup.

Sonsoles meets René while a student of Medicine at the University of Concepción.  René, a communist militant, manages to give another meaning to Sonsoles’ vocation through volunteer work in Lota and their conversations on Marxism.

Situated in the late-1960s, this part of the book shows with extraordinary accuracy the experiences of students of the era.  Sonsoles surrenders to Rene’s charms and his experience working with coal miners and their poor families.

The story, however, is not linear – nor even always chronological – because the narrative is based on conversations with Saint Theresa, who answers in old Spanish.  Each segment of the novel represents a story in its own right, which magically dovetails with the rest like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Through this narrative style, Reimers is able to achieve an intimacy with the reader by presenting dialogues that are almost always stream-of-consciousness monologues.  There are no lines, hyphens or spaces, no periods between speaker and interlocutor.  Everything in the first person, even voices other than the protagonist’s.

After her relationship with René ends, Sonsoles leaves for Mumbai, India in search of answers, to meditate, but basically following Guru-B, the enigmatic, attractive teacher of the huge black eyes whom she had met during a retreat in Santiago de Chile.

Camila Reimers

Camila Reimers

Upon returning to Chile, she adopts the life of a professional, filled with all the trials and tribulations of being a mother of young children: running to swimming and ballet classes for the children, dealing with the nanny and the horrendous hospital hours.

In the backdrop is the turbulent period in Chile that existed during the late 1960s and early-1970s, with its insurmountable division and the shattering of a nation.

In referring to Chile’s great crisis, Sonsoles finds another love, this time an affable, successful older doctor who is a right-wing figure.   Ultimately, this new man ends being a great ally and defender of General Pinochet who will become Chile’s dictator. This period distances her from meditation and her calling, and is the only part of the book in which the word “Prison”, from the title, is represented.

The allusion to “Convents” is evident in the novitiate days and in the communication with Sister Theresa, while “Castles” appear throughout the novel, both in a figurative and literal sense.  This is definitely the case in the last part of the book,that deals with Sonsoles fateful trip to Avila, Spain.

In this novel, Sonsoles’ quest to find answers compels the reader to follow her path.  We remain glued to the page not in hopes of finding the answers, but rather are attentive to her incredible lifetime adventure.

This is a novel that fearlessly, honestly shows us the path of a restless woman, a bold woman, a noble woman.  The emphasis is on the concept of WOMAN, throughout her entire lifetime.