Carolina De Robertis’ debut novel explores the bonds of motherly love through generations
Spanning centuries, continents and the deep and hidden layers of the heart, “The Invisible Mountain” captured my attention from the very first page. And being the type of person who forgets to eat when a superbly written and fascinating tome captures my imagination, during the course of devouring this book I inadvertently lost three pounds.
“The Invisible Mountain” is set in the enchanting world of 20th century Uruguay—a country continuously overshadowed by its larger South American siblings, Argentina and Brazil. A paradox of a nation, Uruguay struggles to grow up and stand on its own two feet amidst world wars, civil unrest and military juntas. But this novel is not about a nation. The unforgettable story is that of women. Mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts—interwoven by and through their womanhood and connected by an inexorable string unraveling through generations. The first novel written by Carolina De Robertis, “The Invisible Mountain” has a voice that is both eerie and mystifying in the best way possible, and filled with relatable characters that are guaranteed to strike an intimate chord within.
The magnificent yarn begins as the hand of father time ticks from the 19th into the 20th century. In Tacuarembo, a mote of a town in the desolate Uruguayan pampas, a miracle has been known to occur every New Year’s Day for centuries past, and this century proves no different. The miracle for this particular annum consists of a baby girl—but no ordinary baby girl of course. This child has been missing for months, suddenly to show up in the most unlikely of places—the top of a tall tree. Her family dubs her Pajarita, meaning little bird, and thus the line of courageous Firielli women begins.
Pajarita has barely reached adulthood when a traveling carnival comes to Tacuarembo. Ignazio, an Italian immigrant adept at gambling and magic tricks falls immediately for the pretty girl named after a fragile creature and wastes no time in requesting her hand. In the days where women were bought and traded into marriage by their fathers based on practicality, Pajarita marries Ignazio and is swept off to her new life in the metropolis of Montevideo. De Robertis masterfully describes the shock Pajarita endures as her pastoral life fades into a past never to be revisited; exchanged with big city noise and chaos in the company of a man she calls husband, but in actuality does not even know.
A brilliant novel that pulls at the heartstrings, “The Invisible Mountain” will make you long to hear your mother’s voice, feel her soothing touch and forever inhale the scent of her freshly washed hair or hearty home cooking.
Lest I give too much away thereby stealing the innate right of a bibliophile to unravel the cadence of the story with their eyes and imagination, Pajarita finally has a daughter. After bearing three sons to a husband who has become an abusive alcoholic, Eva is born and is her mother’s saving grace. But the burden of mothers and daughters is that daughters can never fully appreciate the worrying, concern and late nights their mothers put in for them until they too become mothers themselves. Thus is the circle of womanhood.
Eva is an astute child, obsessed with words and learning and the world. But when the Firielli family falls on hard economic times, despite Pajarita’s pleas, Ignazio insists that the boys stay in school while Eva drops out in order to contribute to the family’s dwindling coffers. Working in the shoe store of a family friend, Eva too soon discovers the demands of womanhood as her boss makes unseemly advances at her, causing her to dread her long days. After a terrible rape that leaves Eva feeling ashamed and unable to tell her parents, she craves the freedom of poetry and words, leaving behind the shoe store forever in a search for a more bohemian lifestyle. The bright lights, buzzing cafes and sultry dance halls of Buenos Aires beckon from across the placid waters of the Rio de la Plata. Eva steals away at dawn one day thinking she will never look back at her family or the shores of her home country of Uruguay, but fate always finds a way to intervene even the best laid plans.
The razzle-dazzle of Buenos Aires is everything she had ever imagined it would be, but Eva’s financial circumstances distance her from the glamorous life she had hoped for. Until, that is, she falls ill and her beauty and erratic poetry attract the eye of a wealthy young doctor. Eva fights tooth and nail to make the doctor hers, thereby winning the pseudo-secure life of a lady who lunches. But when political unrest sweeps Argentina following the death of the beloved leader Peron, Eva must escape Argentina with her family.
Living back in Montevideo, the beautiful Eva struggles to understand Salome—her solemn, plain and studious daughter. Salome feels lonely and unaccepted, until that is, she meets Leona—a friend devoted to the country’s political and social change that will inadvertently lead Salome into the depths of hell and back during the darkest days of the Uruguayan revolution.
A brilliant novel that pulls at the heartstrings, “The Invisible Mountain” will make you long to hear your mother’s voice, feel her soothing touch and forever inhale the scent of her freshly washed hair or hearty home cooking. But more than a novel about mothers and daughters, as I am sure any bibliophile will agree, De Robertis’ “The Invisible Mountain” dazzles with its sheer poetic prose. This is one novel that will captivate your senses (and perhaps shrink your waistline) long after your eyes have devoured the last sentence.
“The Invisible Mountain” by Carolina De Robertis is published by Alfred A. Knopf and is available at local book sellers.