Slum Virgin

Charco Press. Aug. 2020. 147p. ISBN 9781999722708. pap. $15.95. f ;.
Set in the slum of El Poso in Buenos Aires, this novel tells the story of Quity, a crime reporter for a large newspaper, and her lover, Cleopatra, an enigmatic transvestite ex-prostitute. Cleopatra is convinced that her prayers, devotion, and obsession with the Virgin Mary enable her to act as the conduit to improve life within the slum. She introduces aquaculture to the flood-prone shantytown and transforms the community. Quity decides that Cleopatra, now known as the transvestite saint, is the perfect subject for a book. She could leave the newspaper and return to a life of classical literature. Each chapter is narrated either by Quity or Cleopatra. As the story unfolds, violence takes over; there are clashes between lovers, the police, journalists, children, gangs, thieves, and government officials. In order to develop the land for the rich, authorities destroy El Poso and murder many of its inhabitants. Originally published in Spanish in 2009, this English translation from Riddle is rich in characterization and energy. As with Cabezón Cámara’s most recent novel, The Adventures of China Iron, which was short-listed for the 2020 International Booker Prize, Argentina takes center stage, as does the LBGTQ community. Cámara has a powerful voice, one to be taken seriously.

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