In 1977 Uruguay, a military government crushed political dissent with ruthless force. In this environment, where the everyday rights of people are under attack, homosexuality is a dangerous transgression to be punished. And yet Romina, Flaca, Anita "La Venus," Paz, and Malena — five cantoras, women who "sing" — somehow, miraculously, find one another. Together, they discover an isolated, nearly uninhabited cape, Cabo Polonio, which they claim as their secret sanctuary. Over the next thirty-five 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 one another — as they fight to live authentic lives.
A genre-defining novel and Carolina De Robertis's masterpiece, Cantoras is a breathtaking portrait of queer love, community, forgotten history, and the strength of the human spirit. At once timeless and groundbreaking, Cantoras is a tale about the fire in all our souls and those who make it burn.
Author: Carolina De Robertis | Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Rating: 5 / 5
Without hesitation: Cantoras is a masterpiece of a novel. It’s brimming with humanity, turmoil, heart (of both the -warming and -breaking variety), hope, and beauty. I’m about to recommend it to everyone I know who reads literary fiction, because it’s just that good.
The story begins in 1977 Uruguay, under the dictatorship. In that time and place, it was dangerous to leave the house, dangerous to meet in groups, dangerous to speak your mind, dangerous to exist at all. And especially dangerous to exist as a queer woman. So our five friends — some better friends than others — Flaca, Anita, Romina, Malena, and Paz, find a deserted beach where they can be themselves, just for one week. And it quite literally changes their existence.
Flaca is a playgirl with a big heart. Anita is a sexual being who longs for freedom, Romina is an activist, Malena is a web of silence and trauma, and Paz is a young fireball of action. Throughout their lives, they return to the beach again and again. But they also grow, change, love, fight, and intertwine themselves irreversibly.
Carolina De Robertis’s prose is gorgeous. It’s quietly stirring, grabbing your gut without being needy or assuming. It just gets out of its own way and carries you through the story. And these characters are everything. I can’t decide who I’m most drawn to — they are all so complex, and so well written, and have so many interesting things about them.
The ending left me feeling a lot of emotions, but it’s hard to put them into words. It was both sad and hopeful, beautiful and devastating. So I feel all those things at once, which I think is the mark of excellent fiction. Because one emotion is boring. One emotion doesn’t connect you to other people, not truly. One emotion doesn’t expand the way you see the world. But this? This does. Read it.