The writer talks about her new novel Fevers of memory, women’s struggle in a macho society, and Daniel Ortega’s and Rosario Murillo’s obsession with power.
By Concepcion M. Moreno (EFE – Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Writer, political activist and well-known feminist Gioconda Belli says that “it took an act of empathy” to write her latest novel from a male point of view. In her new work, Fevers of Memory, the protagonist is a man – Charles Choiseul de Praslin.
“Putting myself in a man’s shoes was fantastic, because it’s an act of empathy that should be the dynamo of our struggle, be it feminist or political,” Belli commented in an interview with the EFE news agency in Montevideo, Uruguay, where she was named an Honored Visitor by the mayor.
It’s the first time in Belli’s extensive career that she tells a story from the point of view of a male protagonist. Other noted works of this novelist, poet and essayist include” “The Inhabited Woman”(1988), ”Infinity in the Palm of her Hand” (2008), and “The Country of Women” (2010, available in Spanish only as “El Pais de las Mujeres”).
“When one encounters the novel’s tone, one of the great challenges – finding the voice of the person telling the story – then came to me. I thought that later on I was going to incorporate a feminine voice, but that didn’t happen. I continued getting into the character, and I felt that he was the one who had to continue telling his story,” she comments.
A family history
In addition to this unique perspective, Belli’s latest creation, Fevers of Memory (Seix Barral press), is based on her family history: the aristocratic 19th century Frenchman who’s the main character in this story of adventure, intrigue and love was her great great grandfather, the grandfather of her grandmother Graciela, as she explains in the prologue.
“It’s been very interesting probing deeper into my family’s history, since I knew it very superficially. It was like a legend which I didn’t give a lot of credit to, but I decided to investigate. The research led me in a lot of different directions, and I encountered a truly fascinating history,” Belli writes.
Choiseul de Praslin is accused in France of a crime of passion. As a result, he fakes his suicide and begins a new life under a different identity. In a trip that takes him to New York, and from there to Matagalpa, Nicaragua, he struggles internally with his past and he meets a new love in the figure of Margarita, who could possibly redeem him.
“I feel that the end demonstrates that he’s not totally redeemed, but I loved Margarita, the possibility of there being a Margarita. What I liked was the complexity of the figures, just like the human condition,” she explains.
His life in exile
The example of his flight and double life, in the author’s opinion, touched on her own experiences, since she had to go into exile as a fugitive from the law during the time of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua.
“I had to assume a false name. We all share that struggle for identity, but so much more when you’re forced to forge your own new identity,” she affirms. At the same time, she notes, in contrast to the experiences of the novel’s protagonist who has to cover up a terrible crime, her own were nothing but “white lies”, because according to her moral code she had “a sustainable justification for lying”.
“But in his case, that’s the question that the novel poses. What would it cost him to tell the truth? What’s certain is that he doesn’t fully succeed at the happiness he proposes, because he carries that burden of his past.”
In this novel, Belli also portrays very negative attitudes in the female characters that make up Charles’ past, something that Belli justifies because she wanted to talk “about toxic women”.
“It’s also a reality that there are women who are carrying baggage from the social portrait of a woman, a portrait that’s sometimes not the way we’d want it to be – good, strong. Sometimes there are also ways of recovering power that are pretty dire,” she states
Corrupted by power
Belli is actively opposed to the current Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, and his wife Rosario Murillo who she feels are “obsessed with power”, so that they “create an Orwellian universe to justify their existence and their power”, in a situation that parallels the current situation in Venezuela.
“Unfortunately, it’s a Left that has become deeply corrupt. The use the language of the left – social justice – in exchange for your freedom. It’s like an abusive man: he puts food on the table, he assists you in getting an education, but ‘Now you do what I say,’” she affirms.
Faced with all of society’s woes, Belli extols “imagination” as a new way to face the future, since in her opinion, we continue seeking “the answer in old formulas”. Likewise, she celebrates love as “an end to loneliness”.
“We humans are alone, tremendously alone. We’re born alone, we die alone, we live in a body that has a limit, and we can’t enter into another human being. Love is what frees us for long periods from that solitude,” she concludes.