Posted by: biblioglobal | February 28, 2013

Mexico: Women with Big Eyes (Book-from-every-country #34)

Women with Big Eyes by Angeles Mastretta

Women with Big Eyes
by Ángeles Mastretta
translated from the Spanish by Amy Schildhouse Greenberg
Published in 1990

When I signed up for the 2013 Global Women of Color Reading Challenge I realized that while I had read several female authors from the Caribbean I didn’t have any ideas for female authors I wanted to read from continental Latin America. Luckily several other participants in the challenge helped me out with suggestions. Eva at The Striped Armchair strongly recommended Ángeles Mastretta and since I didn’t have any plans yet for a Mexican book, I decided to give her a try.

I went to the library intending to check out Mastretta’s novel Lovesick, but I happened to open her book Women with Big Eyes instead. I read the first two pages and decided I didn’t want to put it down. The book consists of brief stories about 39 ‘aunts’, based on relatives and friends of Mastretta. Each is very short- more of an anecdote or a vignette than a story. Most of the tales focus on a relationship with a man, whether a husband, a boyfriend, or a lover, but the men are mostly in the  background rather than foreground. It is the women who are vivid and colorful. While most of the aunts’ lives fit within relatively traditional gender roles (I get the impression that they are a generation older than Mastretta), they are not passive by any means.

One of my favorite stories was about Aunt Christina who was interesting, but not pretty- “Unfortunately, the men of Puebla weren’t looking for interesting women to marry.” So, having reached the unmarriageable old age of 21, she takes matters into her own hands and leaves for Spain, ostensibly with a mysterious Spanish husband. Six months later she returns as a widow. Aunt Christina, free from the stigma of being an old maid, can now enjoy a happy single life with her family and friends.

It’s the writing style and the people that I enjoyed most about the book. Mastretta makes particularly effective use of lots of parallel structure to bring her characters to life:

“From her mother, Aunt Jacinta inherited a debilitating melancholy… She would grow sad about not having been born in Norway on a stormy night, about never having been to the Congo or never knowing whether she was capable of traveling through India… She had five children, and she would never know what it was like to have two or what it would be like to have ten. She had a medium-size house and a businessman husband; she would never know palaces or hunger. Her husband’s hair was brown and docile; she would never understand what it was to caress coarse black hair like Emiliano Zapata’s, a golden head like Henry Ford’s or a completely bald one like Bishop Toriz’s.”

 Overall though, I didn’t enjoy Women with Big Eyes as much as I expected to. After a while, I found the shortness of the stories dissatisfying. I wanted something more substantial. I think that’s primarily a matter of my personal preference rather than a fault of the book. It might have been better to pick the book up occasionally and savor a few stories at a time instead of reading it straight through as I did. Regardless, I’m glad I followed Eva’s recommendation because I loved the writing style and I definitely plan to read one of Ángeles Mastretta’s novels.

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Responses

  1. Hello Biblioglobal,
    I understand what it feels like when you feel dissatisfied with a novel, when you are expecting and looking forward to something more substantial; however, you get less. I would have actually read the novel as you did.. and not savouring a few at a time. A comprehensible review indeed.

    Cheers!

    • Yeah, this was probably a bit like your recent African anthology read- there’s a lot of great writing in it, but the structure wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

  2. It sounds promising, but I’m like you: I want more. Sometimes snippets leave me cranky (not calling you cranky, just me). But I’ll keep an eye out for this writer.

    • I definitely think she’s worth keeping an eye out for. Her other two novels that have been translated into English (that I know of) are Lovesick and Tear this Heart Out.

  3. Excellent review. I have this on my TBR shelf. Now I know what to expect and how best to read it. Thanks.

    • Glad you liked it. I’m surprised it has taken me this long to get my first GWC book review.

  4. This does sound like a good book for reading in short bits. I think I would get restless too. Hopefully if/when you read another of her books it is more satisfying.

    • It was definitely a worthwhile read despite the drawback of the length of the stories. If the writing in her novels is anything like the writing in this book, I think I will enjoy them very much.

  5. Hello & Congratulations!

    You’re one of the winners in Global Women of Color Reading Challenge – and you’ve won a Spinifex Press book!

    If you could please reply to me with your postal address, I’ll send your winning book off to you ASAP.

    My email: danielle[at]spinifexpress.com.au

    Thank you, & Happy Reading!

  6. […] Women with Big Eyes by Mastretta, Ángeles review by Biblioglobal […]

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  8. […] Women with Big Eyes by Mastretta, Ángeles review by Biblioglobal […]

  9. […] Women with Big Eyes by Mastretta, Ángeles set in: Mexico – review by Biblioglobal […]


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