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  • Writer's pictureCaroline

Uruguay - Cantoras

Cantoras, by Carolina De Robertis

Originally published 2019

Historical Fiction, Literary, LBGTQ+

Setting: Uruguay

[CWs: war, suicide, SA, homophobia, conversion therapy, adult/minor relationship]

'A cantora is a woman who sings. Women like us.'

'Cantoras' follows the lives of 5 gay women who are drawn together during the Uruguayan Dictatorship, when it was illegal to be gay. There is Flaca, flirtacious, confident and easy-going; Romina, insightful and principled; the head-turning, alluring Anita who is just discovering her true sexuality; the secretive and reserved Malena; and Paz, still a teenager, but increasingly sure of her path in life.

After coming together for a spontaneous and affirming trip to a secluded beach, Cabo Polonio, the women pool their savings to purchase a modest hut in the small coastal village and set about creating a sanctuary, a place where the 5 can truly be themselves away from the eyes of the Dictatorship. The 6th, ever-omniscient presence is the regime itself, which creates a strangling and oppressive silence and fear that permeates the novel, through both physical and psychological means. All of the women must hide who they are to varying extents, and the depth of this for some of them is only fully revealed as the narrative unfolds.

Through the years the women strengthen their bonds, but are also pulled apart - romances begin and end, there is heartbreak, jealousy and guilt, further underscored by past trauma and the constant challenge of occupying a space where there is no such thing as personal freedom. Gradually, some of the women begin to drift from the group and go their separate ways despite their intimacy, though it is clear that their shared experiences and understanding have shaped all of them and will continue to bring them back to each other.

This book is beautifully written and deeply, heart-wrenchingly emotional. The characters are rich and I found myself loving every one of the women despite their flaws. I felt their collective grief and sorrow, but I also felt their hope and togetherness.

As you might expect, there are some very difficult themes. One scene towards the end was particularly devastating, and I was horrified to learn after just how rooted in real events this was. I am immensely glad, however, to have read this and it will stay with me.


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