Seeing and Seeing

The Body Where I Was Born, by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by T. J. Lichtenstein, (Seven Stories Press, Random House), 208 pages, release date 16 June 2015.

Sight is the dominant leitmotif in Guadalupe Nettel’s The Body Where I Was Born. There’s the unnamed narrator’s own sight, defective from birth, and which is complicated by efforts to correct it. There’s the narrator’s emotional sense of sight—her ability to see the behavior and motives of those around her, even when they wish she wouldn’t. She also has a sort of reflective sight, an ability (or compulsion) to see the timeline of her own life.

The Body Where I Was Born is essentially a monologue. Our narrator tells the story of her life to her psychoanalyst, Dr. Sazlavski. She was raised by “swinging” parents in the 70s, sent to one of Mexico’s few Montessori schools, drawn later to the culture of punk rock. Mexican herself, she lives in a neighborhood in Mexico that is home to many refugees from Pinochet’s Chile; then moves to France with her mother, who is pursuing graduate studies; then returns to Mexico to live with her grandmother.

Given the novel’s monologic structure the reader doesn’t always trust the narrator. There is no external reality—only her version of events spinning out page after page. At times her observations are perceptive. At other times they seem self-indulgent. The reader can, however, share some part of the feeling of self-actualization she finally reaches when she decides to live in “the body where I was born.”

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